Electric ring drive has long been the fantasy of vehicle designers. Now it is becoming a reality
Is Ring-Drive the Future of Electric Mobility?
By Bill Moore
The idea of electric cars being propelled by motors in the wheel hubs has been around for more than 100 years. However, they've been hampered by their weight and the impediment of 'unsprung mass.' Orbis Wheel's Marcus Hays says that's about to change
Ferdinand Porsche introduced the electric hub motor while working for Jacob Lohner & Co in Vienna, Austria in 1897. It the system proved so reliable and innovative that the Vienna fire brigade ordered 40 vehicles for its fleet, while in Berlin taxis successfully employed the technology.
By the time Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, for whom Porsche was briefly a military chauffeur after being conscripted in 1902, was assassinated, setting the match to the First World War and the end of the Austro-Hungarian empire, electric vehicles were increasingly ignored as buyers flocked to the infernal combustion engine. So did Porsche. Only now, more than a century late, is the company he built coming back to its roots in new Taycan (formerly Mission E).
But the dream of a mechanically simple wheel-mounted propulsion system lived on. Back a decade ago Wavecrest had ambitions of using a beefed up version of their electric bike motor to propel the smart car. Protean just penned an agreement with Henrik Fisker to power the Danish designer’s Orbit autonomous shuttle with its hub motor.
But as the illustrations above suggest, imaginative designers have toyed with the idea of a rim-mounted electric motor for decades, leaving the center of the wheel free from the weight and design constraints of bulky hub-based drives. In reality, it's been more the stuff of fantasy than fact.
Marcus Hays and his team at Orbis Wheels thinks they’re on the cusp of changing that; of transforming how electric vehicles, large and small, are propelled. Advances in material science, he explains to EV World, is what’s making it possible to move beyond the late 19th century technology of Ferinand Porsche and Jacob Lohner and into the 21st.
Based in Mill Valley, California, Orbis has equipped a number of different classes of vehicles with prototype ring-drives: a motor scooter, a Honda Civic, a US Army vehicle, and in the process cut the wheel friction of a conventional motor vehicle to 1/5th, generating in the process some 13 patents and 15 patent pendings.
However, the quest to equip a luxury passenger car goes on, he explained. In its current configuration, the design still needs development to allow automotive engineers to offer the same quality of ride found in the conventional, centralized (ICE or electric) motor drive shaft arrangement. In the meantime, the company continues to refine its technology, while offering prototyping services to its clients.
Our interview is half-an-hour in length and can be listened to using the embedded MP3 player below are be downloaded to playback on your favorite mobile device.
Originally published: 16 Jun 2018
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