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The Electric Motor

Naturally, the electric motor was not possible until electricity was harnessed. The first examples of a form of motor creating motion through electricity was in the mid 18th century, but it wasn’t until the early 19th century that the theory of mechanical movement from electrical energy started to be demonstrated in a way that may become useful – although not really useful in their current forms.

By the 1830s British scientist William Sturgeon developed the first useable DC electric motor capable of practical application in machinery. This was later refined in the same decade by Thomas Davenport for more applicable commercial use.

The DC electric motor continued to develop and became a successful motor for most small and medium sized usage. However, AC motors were also being developed during the late 19th century with the input of important names such as Nikola Tesla, who was the leading advocate of AC power. The AC motor, although less used through most of its history compared to DC motors, have continued to increase in usage.

The use of electric motors is often led by the power source available. An electric motor used as a starter in a car (or its main propulsion) will rely on battery power which is generally Direct Current, so a DC motor will be used. Those motors using mains power from your home are likely to be AC as a result of mains power being Alternating Current.

How electric motors work

Focusing on DC electric motors, which are more common in cars and bikes, the motor is actually a very simply piece of technology. The motor only has one main moving part, which is a rotor attached to a drive shaft. The rotor is a cylindrical part, which slots inside a larger cylinder. The drive is created by magnetic fields generated by the electric current being passed through coils of wire.

Through correct placement of these electromagnets the forces generated cause the central rotor to turn. By increasing the power input (electrical power), you increase the forces generated by the magnets and therefore force the rotor to turn faster and with more power. This provides excellent acceleration power, with maximum force available instantly by delivering maximum electrical power. The lack of moving parts also make the motor a very reliable and easy to maintain unit.

Automotive use of electric motors

One of the first uses of electric motors to power a vehicle (other than small test models) was with a locomotive built by Scottish inventor Robert Davidson in 1838. At a similar time fellow Scot, Robert Anderson, built what could be considered the first full sized electric car. Although rudimentary, it was a full sized carriage powered by an electric motor.

These early attempts used non-rechargeable cells and so were not particularly practical. However, French physicist Gaston Planté developed the lead-acid battery in the 1860s, producing the first rechargeable batteries. This helped the electric motor car grow in usability and popularity, although mainly within France and Great Britain.

By 1867 the first electric motorcycle was presented in Paris at a world exhibition, which had been developed by Franz Kravogl, an Austrian inventor.

Thomas ParkerMany inventors took the development of the electric car forward, with each taking rightful credit for various stages of the first working/useable electric car, including English inventor Thomas Parker, who produced the first practical electric car in 1884. German engineer Andreas Flocken also developed a useable four wheeled car four years later.

Over the next 10 years the spread of electric cars saw uptake further across Europe and America.

Use of the electric motor tapered off as the dominance of the internal combustion engine took over. However, electric vehicles remained with various practical uses, including smaller urban cars, delivery vans, milk-floats, and even the Lunar Rover.

Engine History for cars and motorcycles

 



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