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This teen has designed a motor that could transform how electric cars are made

17-year-old Robert Sansone has designed a prototype for a synchronous reluctance motor that could make manufacturing electric vehicles cheaper and more sustainable.

This teen has designed a motor that could transform how electric cars are made
Image Source: (Left) Goodable / Twitter (Right) mbuguanjihia / Twitter

Robert Sansone, 17, has engineered a revolutionary synchronous reluctance motor that could completely transform how electric vehicles are manufactured. At present, electric vehicles utilize rare-earth elements within their internal magnets to generate the required torque to power the motor. These elements (neodymium, samarium and dysprosium) are expensive. However, more importantly, their mining is detrimental to the environment. The teenager's new invention may mean that electric vehicles could be produced more sustainably, helping manufacturers forge a more eco-friendly future for all. Sansone has already developed a prototype using 3D printed plastic, copper wires and a steel rotor, My Modern Met reports.


He was offered the opportunity to work on a complex year-long research project through a class at Fort Pierce Central High School, where he is currently a senior. He chose to work on building a synchronous reluctance motor. "I have a natural interest in electric motor," he said. "With that sustainability issue, I wanted to tackle it, and try and design a different motor." Synchronous reluctance motors typically power smaller items such as fans. This is because they lack the torque and power to move larger objects such as electric vehicles. A traditional electric vehicle motor makes use of electromagnetic fields to spin the motor, whereas a synchronous reluctance motor uses a steel rotor with air gaps within a rotating magnetic field. In the latter, the reluctance, or magnetism, of the steel rotor generates torque. In comparison, the 17-year-old decided to use a second magnetic field. As a result, his prototype motor features a higher saliency ratio and thus more torque.


At present, Sansone cannot disclose more details. He hopes to patent his design after developing more prototype samples. He said in an interview with Smithsonian Magazine, "I do not have tons of resources for making very advanced motors, and so I had to make a smaller version—a scale model—using a 3-D printer. I did not have a mentor to help me, really, so each time a motor failed, I had to do tons of research and try and troubleshoot what went wrong. But eventually, on the 15th motor, I was able to get a working prototype."


Already, the teenager's invention has gathered national interest. He won first prize—$75,000 for college tuition—during the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), a prestigious high school science competition. Sansone hopes to use the prize money to pursue mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, his dream school. Notably, this is not his first invention. So far, he estimates he has completed approximately 60 engineering projects. 


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