The Spherical Motor Made by High School Makers

Ampère’s circuital law, the magnetic effect of electric current, action and reaction—these are things we’ve all learned in high school physics classes.

Putting it into action

But Po-Hsun Yan (顏伯勳) and Shang-Jung Li (李尚融) have applied what they learned and created the “Spherical Motor.” Their project also represented Taiwan in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, this May. The Intel ISEF is known as the World Cup of youth science and even the “training ground for the Nobel Prize.” The Spherical Motor beat 1792 competitors from all over the world to take second place in the engineering mechanics category.

The Spherical Motor by Po-Hsun Yan (顏伯勳) and Shang-Jung Li (李尚融) won second place at the Intel ISEF

The two seventeen-year-olds were good friends in school because they shared a hobby—designing and making things from scratch. They are always talking about new gadgets and trying to create things that took their fancy. In their freshman year, they saw a very popular video:

Goodyear’s concept tire inspired them to become makers. Po-Hsun convinced his parents to let him take a gap year and apply for a self-study plan. They also gave him 20,000 New Taiwan dollars and said they expected to see good results within a year. Shang-Jung was trying to get into a good university, but he still managed to help turn this concept product into reality by working together with Po-Hsun in their free time, because they both love making things.

Research and teamwork, improving motor basics

Po-Hsun was in charge of the hardware design and manufacturing, and Shang-Jung handled software and automation. When they started looking for resources, friends recommended they join the Southern Taiwan Maker Center, run by the Yunlin-Chiayi-Tainan Regional Branch of the Workforce Development Agency. The Southern Taiwan Maker Center had the equipment they needed, and they were introduced to Professor Min-Fu Hsieh of NCKU Electric Motor Technology Research Center, who provided useful resources and guidance to help make the Spherical Motor possible.

According to Po-Hsun and Shang-Jung, many other spherical motors work poorly because they were designed as “special machines” from a control perspective. Nobody had focused on the electromagnetic field and geometric design of the motor. Therefore, they began to research the design in order to increase efficiency.

First-generation Spherical Motor

They borrowed the structure of their first-generation Spherical Motor from a design made at Carnegie Mellon University. On a limited budget, they used a laser cutter and oscilloscope at the Southern Taiwan Maker Center to make their prototype:

Second-generation Spherical Motor

The first-generation motor had laminated torque vector, but they revised this in the second iteration, using a magnetic field to create a 3D rotation effect. They created their own structure design that performs much better than the first generation:

Since winning second place in the international event, Po-Hsun and Shang-Jung have not rested on their laurels. They continue to work to optimize the Spherical Motor and apply it in different fields, such as robotic arms, robots, and quadcopters. In their eyes, the Spherical Motor will only be a success when people start using it in real life; otherwise, it’s just a good-looking toy.

For more information on the Spherical Motor, please visit these websites:

You can also discuss this project with Po-Hsun and Shang-Jung:

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