Fun & Games Science Technology
Amazing linear propulsion systems – no toy application (yet!)

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@The NYC Toy fair 2008 not everyone is a toy (or kit) maker – I met with two engineers that just showed up with their working prototype (The Z-drive) in hopes a toy maker might use it for something. It’s pretty incredible – I think these guys are getting my “MAKE’s best of show”… The worst part was watching the scammy “inventor company” people try and slime in and talk about all sorts of nonsense, but I guess that’s how it goes.

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The bullet train & cars is a linear propulsion system that moves small objects along the tracks. It can go faster than their first attempts and has greater climb mobility for the objects (little items with 3 magnets underneath).

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The Z-Drive is the third generation of linear propulsion system under development, it’s smoother at higher speeds and has the ability to climb steeper grades.

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Circular version, can be a fan.

I’m going to see if they’ll do kit versions of these, they don’t use microcontrollers, it’s all just parts. It would be a fun MAKE kit to build your own train like this.

Here’s a video, it’s fun to watch.


  • IDL Motors – Link.
  • More photos of the Z-Drive @ Flickr – Link.
  • Giant set of NYC Toy fair 2008 photos @ Flickr – Link.
  • MAKE’s coverage of the NYC Toy Faire 2008 in one place! – Link.

24 thoughts on “Amazing linear propulsion systems – no toy application (yet!)

  1. I wonder how they do this. Does it send some sort of “pulse train” that propels the magnets forward? I’m at work, so I can’t see the video.

  2. It looks like they’re using printed circuits, instead of wound electromagnets, to create linear magnetic tracks which the magnetic cars follow. Smart. PT, do the cars touch the track or float a little above it?

  3. AP: No magic here, and no homopolar motors either. This is an “iron core” type linear motor, which works exactly the same way as a regular DC brushless motor, where the outer case with its wound electromagnet coils has been slit along the axis of the motor, unrolled, and repeated. They have done a very, very nice job of designing the magnets for the cars and of laying out the coils as a printed circuit. (Bravo!)

  4. looks to me like the tracks consist of lots of little PCB coils – apart the same distance apart for the magnets on the cars, I bet they are driven with an AC signal of some sort and the freq of the signal controlls the speed probably sinks an awefull chunk of power ….

    seems easily hackable – with some minor smarts you could even make points – keep your credit cards in the other room

    a really cute idea, hope they get to make a bundle on it

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