Thursday, November 29, 2012

Electric Motors, New & Old

Several high school students zip by my house in the mornings and afternoons on bicycles with tiny 2-stroke gas engines. I perceive them from a long distance, hear the Doppler effect as they approach and recede, and cringe as they pass the house – the motors may be small, but they are SHOCKINGLY LOUD AND PENETRATING.

Surely there might be a less noisy solution to their desire not to have to pedal? One might ask why bother to ride a bike, but I won’t.

E-bikes (electric bikes) would solve my local students’ need for locomotion, and my, and my neighbors’, need to retain our hearing.

Enter the US Patent Office’s Green Tech Pilot Program, and patent US 8,222,786, issued in July 2012 to David G. Calley and co-inventors, all in Flagstaff, AZ; their patent is assigned to Motor Excellence, LLC.

Their invention is entitled “Transverse and/or commutated flux systems having phase offset”, and is described in the abstract:
"Electrical machines, for example transverse flux machines and/or commutated flux machines, may be configured to achieve reduced overall cogging torque via implementation of a sixth-phase offset. Individual cogging torque waveforms in the electrical machine may be evenly distributed across one-sixth of a voltage phase or other suitable spacing, resulting in a reduced magnitude and/or increased sinusoidality of the overall cogging torque waveform for the electrical machine."
In claim 10 one learns that “The stator of claim 2, wherein the stator is coupled to a wheel of an electric bicycle.”

Inventor Calley has 14 patents assigned to Motor Excellence for which he is the first-named inventor; five of these issued from the Green Tech Pilot Program. Four of the Green Tech patents are found in the patentECO Energy | Energy efficiency | Motors & alternators | Design hierarchy (Index | Category | Technology | Feature), and the fifth is categorized as Transportation | Electric vehicle | Motor | Stator.  A fascinating aspect of all of Calley’s Motor Excellence (ME) patents is that they cite US 1,361,136 as the earliest citation. In other words, ME’s key technology derives from a patent issued in 1920. The ‘136 patent, “Dynamo-Electric Machine,” “relates to an improved method and form of construction of dynamo electric machines which is especially applicable to comparatively small sizes of motors, generators and the like. The main objects are to simplify the method of construction and reduce the amount of labor necessary and also reduce the cost of material while producing a strong and durable construction with reduction of size and weight of the machine.”

The Motor Excellence web page states:
"Motor Excellence (Me) is an innovative clean technology company that has designed a new class of high-efficiency electric motors for use in a vast range of applications. Unique in their design, Me boldly offers a 21st century answer to a world tied to inefficient, wasteful and polluting 19th century motor technologies. Me motors enable highly efficient, more cost effective and less resource-intensive electric-powered machines, which will ultimately reduce the world’s reliance on unsustainable energy sources."
No word on 20th century tech.

The company owns a subsidiary, Me eBike LLC, that “provides motors with unprecedented range, acceleration and hill climbing ability to the global electric bicycle industry. Electric bikes (e-bikes) are two or three wheel pedal-driven bicycles with an electric hub motor that provides propulsion assistance to a rider.”

Motor Excellence, founded in 2007, is one of the Young Gun companies in Way Better Patents’ Discovery and Analysis report on USPTO’s Green Tech Program. They completed a move to new Flagstaff headquarters in 2009, and expanded into additional manufacturing space in 2011. This expansion was funded in part by “a $962,000 grant from the 21st Century Grant Program coordinated by the Arizona Commerce Authority (ACA) in 2009, it hired five new workers the next day. The grant program is designed to utilize federal stimulus funds to invest in and promote energy efficient and renewable energy products manufactured in Arizona,” according to a company press release. The Arizona Daily Sun reported in late December 2011 that Motor Excellence had laid off 24 workers and eliminated one management position in November/December 2011. A cached version of inventor David Calley’s Linkedin profile states that he continued with Motor Excellence to July 2012, when “Motor Excellence’s assets were purchased and the new company is called Electric Torque Machines.” A subsequent patent awarded to Calley and assigned to ETM also reaches back to the 1920 ‘136 patent.

According to Pike Research, the electric bicycle market in the US is expected to triple by 2018 with global sales exceeding 47 million vehicles generating nearly $12 million in revenue.  China dominates the global market for e-bikes sales accounting for 92% of the total sales.  The US market accounts for only about 89,000 e-bikes this year.  (The e-bikes are a popular favorite for food delivery people in big cities.)  Sales of e-bikes in the US are expected to reach 265,000 by 2018.

Of course, the ME and ETM patents for electric bike motors refer to many other intervening patents and technologies, as you will see if you review some of them. However, Calley and his co-inventors determined how to improve on an old design in a way that meets USPTO criteria for
  • what can be patented (process, machine, article of manufacture, composition of matter, improvement of any of the above)
  • novelty
  • nonobviousness
  • adequately described or enabled (for one of ordinary skill in the art to make and use the invention)
  • claimed by the inventor in clear and definite terms.
Another thing that reduces the noise from 2-stroke bike motors is cool weather – the high school boys apparently aren’t members of the Polar Bear Club. Or the gasoline has gelled. Either way, wunderbar, as they say in Deutschland.