The last time we did a story about Protean in wheel motors was four years ago. Back then, the headline said production would begin in 2014. Not much has been heard from Protean since then but now comes word that it has formed a partnership with Zhejiang VIE Science & Technology Company (VIE) and will to develop its ProteanDrive 16″ in-wheel motor for use in a broad range of automotive and light truck applications.
What’s so great about in wheel motors? For one thing, they eliminate all the transmissions, driveshafts, axles, differentials, and clutches that have been part of conventional cars with internal combustion engine cars for a century. Getting rid of all that hardware leaves lots more room inside the structure of an automobile for passengers and the stuff they carry around with them. It also means designers can devise new crash structure architecture that does a better job of protecting people in the event of a collision.
The bad news is that the Protean DRIVE 16 adds 60 pounds of unsprung weight to the corner of a car. Unsprung weight is the enemy of handling. Every time the car hits a bump, a pot hole, or a speed bump, all that weight has to get started in one direction and then move in the opposite direction as soon as the spring it is attached to reaches the limit of its travel.
It is Newton’s First Law of Motion — a body at rest tends to remain at rest until an outside force is applied to it. Add in the weight of the tire, the wheel, and brakes and the total weight of the components at any corner of a car fitted with an in wheel motor could exceed 100 pounds. That’s a lot of mass to get moving every time a bump in the road comes along. Such a thing would have been impossible a few years ago, but today’s computer controlled active suspensions might be able to cope with the stress an in wheel motor will place on the suspension components.
Each ProteanDRIVE 16 in wheel motor has nearly 600 ft-lb of peak torque and 54 peak horsepower according to Green Car Congress. The wheel/motor combination is intended to meet the needs of all plug-in hybrid and electric cars. The torque is more than ample. The power seems a little low unless four in wheel motors are planned. The motor is designed to fit inside a standard 16″ wheel. Here’s hoping it won’t be another 4 years before we hear from Protean again. Be sure to check out the video below for more information.