A new motor for the watch of tomorrow

August 4, 2011 By Sarah Perrin
Credit: 2011 LAI-EPFL

An electromagnetic three-phase motor, invented by EPFL’s Integrated Actuators Laboratory, will enable the watchmaking industry to build watches that are three times more efficient and that can include more applications.

Tomorrow’s wristwatches will be more efficient. Their batteries will last much longer. And in addition to giving the time, they might offer additional functions such as a telephone, a compass or other kinds of energy-consuming applications. EPFL’s Integrated Actuators Laboratory (LAI), in Neuchatel, has made a major step in this direction with the invention of a new kind of motor whose energy output is three times greater than traditional motors. It will thus satisfy the requirements and developments of the watchmaking industry.

To manufacture micro-electronic microsystems, known as MEMS, engineers typically call upon the principles of electrostatics. The LAI scientists, however, are proposing an electromagnetic drive system. Using a fixed magnet and three phases instead of a single phase, this novel device has more than once required its inventors to overcome formidable challenges…

“To obtain a good motor, you need a minimum of two or three phases, that is to say, two or three copper coils,” explains Yves Perriard, head of LAI. “However, these coils take up room, and thus we were obliged to invent a new configuration and geometry for the motor. And most of all, they’re very expensive to make using traditional methods, which haven’t changed since the 1970s.”

Clean room fabrication

The researchers thus opted for a new fabrication process. The method had to be conducted in a clean room and was complicated to set up – a total of 24 operations had to be defined. But it was worth it, because the method makes it possible to manufacture certain components at very low cost. The stators, for example, fixed parts of the motor, are engraved on silicon plates, which means that a large quantity of them can be made simultaneously.

They also encountered another difficulty: with three phases, the command electronics had to be redesigned. “To tell time adequately, the motor must be able to locate the rotor, or the rotating part, at any point in time,” explains Perriard. “However, it would be very expensive to equip the motor with sensors to do this. We are thus trying to come up with solutions from signal processing techniques that use the ’s voltage and current.” It’s a tiny device, but it’s filled to the brim with ideas and inventions…

Explore further: Rolls-Royce to unveil electric car next month

Related Stories

Power to the plane

March 9, 2011

Work has begun on a record-breaking, 120-meter wingspan plane and it’s up to a small team of engineers from Newcastle University to make sure it gets off the ground.

NIH grant ratchets up ASU research in molecular motors

May 30, 2011

Empowered by a $1.2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Arizona State University scientist Wayne Frasch is deciphering how one of the world’s smallest molecular motors works in living cells. In ...

High-precision robots available in kit form

June 17, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- A doctoral student from EPFL's Laboratory of Robotics Systems has developed a concept for modular industrial robots, based on the technology of parallel robots, whose precision is expressed in nanometers.

Recommended for you

Inferring urban travel patterns from cellphone data

August 29, 2016

In making decisions about infrastructure development and resource allocation, city planners rely on models of how people move through their cities, on foot, in cars, and on public transportation. Those models are largely ...

How machine learning can help with voice disorders

August 29, 2016

There's no human instinct more basic than speech, and yet, for many people, talking can be taxing. 1 in 14 working-age Americans suffer from voice disorders that are often associated with abnormal vocal behaviors - some of ...

Apple issues update after cyber weapon captured

August 26, 2016

Apple iPhone owners on Friday were urged to install a quickly released security update after a sophisticated attack on an Emirati dissident exposed vulnerabilities targeted by cyber arms dealers.

4 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

that_guy
1 / 5 (1) Aug 04, 2011
I think this motor is great, and will revolutionize the gadgets that can use it, but I don't think anyone cares if this motor powers a few hundred watches in the future. lets face it, there is no 'watch' of tomorrow, unless you're saying that as a euphemism for phone.
Vendicar_Decarian
1 / 5 (3) Aug 04, 2011
Why is anyone still making mechanical watches?

Worthless.
DGBEACH
Aug 04, 2011
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Vendicar_Decarian
1 / 5 (3) Aug 06, 2011
Mechanical features?

In a watch?

That is so pre-warp.

Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.