Turning a Floating Idea Into Reality

In this inventor spotlight, learn how one architect is defying the law of gravity.
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Dutch architect Janjaap Ruijssenaars has constructed a bed that makes people who sleep on it feel as if they are floating on air.

Hold on, wait a minute -- maybe this is because they actually are floating on air.

It seems impossible, something more likely to be seen in a sci-fi movie than in reality, but it's true.

The floating bed, which debuted a year ago, does in fact hover in midair, precisely 40 centimeters (about 15½ inches) above the ground.

And apart from four cables -- one attached at each of its corners to keep the bed in place and from flying up further -- the ethereal block holds no connection with the floor.

The ultra-chicness of the product is mesmerizing. Still, one can't help but wonder: how is the floating bed able to defy gravity? The key here, Ruijssenaars explains, lies in a pair of inlaid repelling magnets, one set inside the bed and the other built directly into the floor underneath.

Have no fear: "Apart from possible implants one might have, the permanent magnetic field has, according to qualified specialists, no influence on the human body," the inventor says. "Also, the magnetic field on top of the bed will be reduced to a negligible level, so electronic devices such as laptops and cell phones can be used on top of it."

Measuring about 10 feet by 4½ feet, the bed is constructed to withhold a staggering 1,984 pounds. Plus, the magnetic system "is guaranteed to last a lifetime," Ruijssenaars says. That's a good thing, considering the price for the bed, including on-location installation, is 1.2 million euros (approximately $1.62 million).

The bed can be purchased online through Ruijssenaars' Amsterdam-based start-up architecture firm,

Universe Architecture. As of now, no beds have been sold, but there are interested individuals and companies, he says.

The Persistent Path

The floating bed, Ruijssenaars explains, is an idea that was sparked from the sleek rectangular monoliths featured in Stanley Kubrick's science-fiction masterpiece

2001: A Space Odyssey

.

The 33-year-old architect, having always been conscious of gravity's force on the surrounding environment, says he pondered the possibility of creating a building or furniture piece that resisted this pervasive force.

Shortly after graduating from the Technical University Delft in the Netherlands, Ruijssenaars started Universe Architecture and began work on his idea of creating something that had the intrinsic nature of "falling up" instead of down.

Six years later, while Universe Architecture evolved into a company working on urban design, architecture and design, Ruijssenaars' floating-bed vision became a reality.

"I started out with refrigerator magnets," the inventor recalls. "From there ... several scale models ... and discoveries were

made."

Discoveries, he says, included determining the best layout for the magnetic material, the materials needed to shield the field for domestic use, the best way to construct the floating bed and the most efficient and attractive placement for the cables.

"All these discoveries and phases had their own problems and time schedules," Ruijssenaars says. But in the end, one priority remained: "It was important to stick with the visual wishes, even when alternatives seemed a lot easier," he says.

In June 2006 a successful prototype was developed and the product was launched. At this point, Ruijssenaars says, the floating bed received a stunning amount of attention. The public reaction, he says, was both positive and negative.

One in particular sticks out in his mind: "Very special was a letter from a kid in Japan stating he wants to become an inventor just like me," Ruijssenaars recalls. "It touched me because it showed just how far an idea can reach."

On the other hand, there were also reactions from people who thought the floating bed was not really an invention.

"I think it is healthy to get this type of response as well," Ruijssenaars says. Although it's true that the floating bed is a combination of principles that already existed, "the invention lies in the well-developed image of a usable artifact that seems to fall up and the new developed technique making this possible," he explains.

For others out there inventing their own creations, Ruijssenaars says believing in oneself is key.

"In the beginning, people thought it was a nice idea, but they did not think it was possible. Now the majority is astonished by the idea, visual result and possibilities," he says. "When you are confident in the qualities of your idea, you will automatically stick with it. You will need this to say 'yes' in times when others say 'no.'"