Progress is often measured by how small things have become. Be it the microchip in your smartphone or the engine in your car, extracting more from less has always been the milestone. And when it comes to electric mobility, the area of focus has been on shrinking the size of batteries so that we can carry more. But is that the only way?
Well, the white suits at Protean Electric are working on something radical. You see, it doesn’t matter whether a car is an electric, hybrid, fuel cell, IC or from the Flintstones era, the thing that gets it moving forward are its wheels. Ideally, the drive from the power source is sent to the gearbox, which distributes it among the wheels, with losses. But, what if we make the wheels themselves the power source?
The Protean Drive system is exactly that. Instead of installing an electrically motor centrally, the same is built into the wheels. They have been able to build compact in-wheel motors with an integrated inverter, control electronics and software, which can power individual wheels. Thus, this technology can be used as a hybrid to help IC engines, make an existing 2WD car 4WD or into an all-electric vehicle. This system can also be used in existing cars as an aftermarket fitment to convert a standard car into a hybrid. The rotor here is on the outside and the stator on the inside. Apart from that, it is a conventional AC motor.
Let's talk numbers. Each motor of the Protean Drive can deliver 110 PS of power and a massive 800Nm torque. The system was added to a Brabus E-Class sedan, which, with the help of the Protean Drive, managed a 0-100kmph time of 7.4 seconds.
Now, I know the doubt in your head -- motors are heavy and this will make the wheel weigh a ton. But no, the total weight of an assembly is just 31 kg. Yes, this is still a lot more than a conventional lightweight alloy but Protean say that the suspension can be set up in a way that this additional unsprung mass doesn't affect the dynamics of a car. This tech is valid for two-wheelers as well, with a similar kind of construction.
The Protean Drive can be installed in a conventional 18- to 24-inch wheel without altering the original wheel bearing. It eliminates the use of drivetrain components such as external gearing, transmissions, driveshafts, axles and differentials. Also, since there are considerably low drivetrain losses, there is more energy harnessed from regenerative braking and the battery packs themselves. Since each of the motors can be controlled industrially, there is greater control in the hands of the manufacturers to improve the dynamic ability of the car with traction control, launch control and torque vectoring.
It's hard to say whether or not this tech will be picked up by manufacturers, but knowing that there are people out there thinking outside the box makes me believe that there is more than what meets the eye in electric mobility.