Glenn, a very nice fellow over in the UK, pings us every so often when he has something cool. The coolness factor of Glenn’s things is what makes us believe that they will be of interest to RainyDayMagazine readers.
Glenn was the one who clued us into this striking stainless precision gyroscope, as well as something called a Halbach Array. A few weeks ago Glenn sent an email saying “something” was in the “post” for us. We had no idea what it was going to be and, to tell the truth, until FedEx dropped THIS off at the office, it had slipped our collective mind.
We opened the box and saw a device that looked like a prop from the movie Men In Black. We didn’t know what it was at first, but were pretty sure that the rest of the day was shot. We soon learned that this steampunk-looking creation from our UK friend was a device called a Stirling Engine, and this particular one is a prototype named the Nano Cannon.
To be clear, we have heard the term “Stirling Engine” before, much like we have heard “Bose-Einstein condensate” being tossed around (we have interesting friends…). We ourselves, however, were not able speak intelligently about either topic. Of course, our lack of actual knowledge wasn’t in any way going to prevent us from popping out the parts from the box and examining all of the bits in detail.
What was in the box:
- Stirling Engine Module
- Stainless steel platform
- Aluminum fuel canister
- Brass cap
- Misc screws, wicks, and tool
So, what exactly is a Stirling Engine?
The Stirling Engine is named after Robert Stirling, a Scottish clergyman who invented the first practical example of a closed-cycle air engine in 1816. The basic principle is that the engine “runs” by taking heat energy and converting it to mechanical work via the cyclic compression and expansion of a working fluid. There are various designs of closed-cycle hot air engines, but the use of a regenerator for heat exchange is what differentiates the Stirling design from the others.
Another interesting aspect of the Stirling Engine is that no combustion happens inside the engine. The external heat energy used to power it can be from a variety of sources (solar, fire, etc). Some can be made to run with just the heat emanating from the palm of the hand. This, of course, is interesting from so many different levels!
The Nano Cannon Stirling engine itself came fully assembled. All that remained was to bolt the unit onto the metal plate, thread the cotton wick through the fuel canister, and insert the canister into opening in the plate. While Glenn mentioned that this was a prototype, the unit appears ready for production. The parts were well machined, polished, and had excellent fit. A quality example of precision engineering and craftsmanship.
The prototype took about a minute to assemble and, once fueled, was ready for its test run…well, our first test run anyway! Being cautious (did we mention Glenn said it was a prototype?), we put it on a slate platform and had a can of fire-suppression foam at the ready (turned out to be completely unnecessary).
We lit the wick and stood back a little, not really sure what was next. After we waited for about 20 seconds, the engine started to turn! The action and movement were mesmerizing. It ran with a rhythmic clicking but was otherwise silent. So cool!!!
Here is a clip of the Stirling Engine in action…with slo-mo!!!
We have seen and played with some pretty cool stuff here at the RainyDayMagazine office, but this Nano Cannon Stirling Engine may surpass them all. It is definitely at the top of the “What is that and where did you get it?” list.
Unlike other Stirling engines from Kontax Engineering, the Nano Cannon is not currently available to the general public. Kontax is running a Kickstarter campaign to get funding to complete a first run. While we are generally skeptical of Kickstarter projects (and we have funded a few), we have enough confidence in this one to say to readers that they should get on board if interested.