When it comes to the nascent world of mobility and electrification, one big innovation can upend the status quo and rewrite the future.
So what’s the next huge breakthrough? Linear Labs’ founder and CEO, Brad Hunstable, thinks his company has a hit on its hands with a new motor technology.
Brad Hunstable, Linear Labs’ founder and CEO. (Photo: Linear Labs)
Linear Labs was created to develop motors and generators that provide more power than competing products while using less energy. The company’s key development is the Hunstable Electric Turbine (HET) motor, targeted at scooters and the micromobility segment.
“The defining characteristic of our motor is that at very low rpms, we are able to generate massive torque and high efficiency,” says Hunstable. “It accomplishes that while maintaining the same volume and weight as less efficient motors.”
The HET provides 123 percent more torque than the motor in one of the segment-leading scooters, the Segway Ninebot ES4. The HET produces 38 Nm of peak torque, compared to the Segway’s 17 Nm. When adjusted for the same volumetric and mass power density, the HET offers more than double the amount of peak torque provided by the Segway.
This performance stems from the HET’s one-of-a-kind design. The motor uses multiple rotors that are able to change with the environment while in motion. Magnetic flux from the rotors works seamlessly to prevent rotor flux leakage, and creates conditions that can help boost torque. With competing products, flux leakage can cause torque levels to flatten out at a point where the HET motor’s levels continue to rise.
Pedal to the metal
Neodymium is usually the metal of choice for the magnets used in electric motors. This is because these motors generate their power at high revs, and the metal used needs to be extremely durable. Neodynium is tough enough to weather this challenge, but the downside is that it’s more expensive than other choices. Also, says Hunstable, there can be supply issues because “China controls the market.”
Since the HET motor generates power at lower revs, there is less stress on the motor, and the metal doesn’t need to be as strong. Hunstable says his magnets are made of iron ferrite, which isn’t as strong as neodymium, but is robust enough to work. Iron ferrite is both more widely available than neodymium and notably less expensive. This savings could potentially be passed on to consumers.
This isn’t Hunstable’s first time at the rodeo when it comes to innovation. Prior to launching Linear Labs, this West Point graduate was CEO of Ustream, a company that was an early pioneer in digital streaming. Ustream was acquired by IBM for $150 million in 2016, and it became the basis of that company’s Cloud Video division.
Since he’s shown himself to be someone with his finger on the pulse of what’s to come, we were curious about Hunstable’s thoughts on the future of EVs. Though EVs have a long way to go when it comes to matching or surpassing the sales of gas-only vehicles, Hunstable is bullish that this will change sooner than we may think. “Growth curves in the industry are non-linear, and once you hit a tipping point, things evolve very rapidly. The best example I can point to is the iPhone. Sales were okay for a couple of years, and then things exploded. It was the same with streaming.”
Hunstable is also optimistic about the future of micromobility. “Micromobility will become an important part of the mobility story,” he says. “The U.S. isn’t even the best data point for this. In some Asian cities, the tech has been used for a very long time.”
Hunstable has initially targeted the scooter market, where his motor would compare favorably to tech leaders like Segway. (Photo: Segway)
From e-scooters to EVs
Though the HET motor was developed mainly for micromobility, it offers a broad range of applications, including electric vehicles. “On the EV side, things get even more interesting,” says Hunstable. “On midsize EVs, we produce as much two to three times the torque as other motors on the market.”
When can we expect to see HET motors on our streets? “We’ve been in R&D for the past four years, but we have customers and large deals lined up,” says Hunstable. “The motor will be in scooters first. But by late 2021 and early 2022, it will be in cars.”
The company also plans to introduce the HET motor for use in applications such as air conditioning and robotics. “This motor has the potential to impact a host of industries,” says Hunstable. “We can’t keep burning dinosaurs forever.”