By Rob Smith
A clock over 150-metres tall, designed to run for the next 10,000 years, will one day be installed inside a mountain in west Texas. What may sound like something out of a science-fiction movie is actually the defining project of the Long Now Foundation, a non-profit that wants to “help make long-term thinking more common”.
The idea was introduced by inventor Danny Hillis in 1995, who envisaged a clock that ticks once a year, with a hand that moves once a century and a cuckoo that appears once every 1,000 years. Today the project is backed by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who has reportedly contributed $42 million.
Bezos has also taken an active role in designing the clock, which is partially constructed using a marine grade 316 stainless steel. However, some of the moving parts will be made from stone and hi-tech ceramic to avoid wear or corrosion.
All the bearings in the clock will be engineered ceramic, too. Because these bearings are so hard, and rotate at a very low speed, they require no lubrication – which would typically attract grit and eventually cause the parts to grind down.
According to the Long Now Foundation, the clock will also use captured energy from changes in the temperature to drive its time-keeping parts, with power transmitted to the interior of the clock via metal rods.
“As long as the sun shines and night comes, the clock can keep time itself, without human help,” a spokesperson for the Foundation says.
But it can’t chime for long by itself, or show the time, so the clock will need people to visit to help wind it up. Each time this is done, the clock face will show the right time and will chime – but only at midday.
Musician Brian Eno, who is on the board of directors of the Long Now Foundation, built a “never-repeating” melody generator designed to play a different chime sound every day for 10,000 years.
While it is not clear when the clock will be completed, a prototype version was finished and tested at the turn of the millennium. At the stroke of midnight, the prototype bonged twice to usher in the year 2000. The clock is now in the London Science Museum.
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