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Electric Motors Find New Roles in Robots, Ships, Cars, and Microgrids


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A robotic cheetah; Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor James Kirtley has been working on more-efficient motors for the robot.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor James Kirtley says electric motors have begun to supplant diesel and gas-powered engines.

Credit: Massachusetts Institute of Technology

About 40% of electric power is used to drive motors, and that figure is expected to grow, according to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) professor James Kirtley.

He notes electric motors have begun to supplant diesel and gas engines in ships and cars and are optimizing the performance of robots.

Kirtley's research into electric power systems focuses on developing electric motors to help distribution systems handle the intermittent power generated by solar panels.

"The problem with rooftop solar is that it looks to the power system like a reduction in load, but as solar cells become more widespread, homes will at times be able to produce more power than they're consuming," Kirtley says. "So the power flows backward, which makes everything more complicated."

Kirtley thinks electric motors may add more reliability to the microgrids being developed to adapt to multidirectional power, and he has been working on creating customized electric motors for MIT colleague Sangbae Kim's robotic cheetah. The robot's new motor is more efficient and more powerful, albeit only in short bursts, Kirtley says.

He also notes commercial shipping has started to move toward hybrid systems in which diesel or gas generators drive an electric motor.

From MIT News
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