Bill Gates' vision is part of most home PCs, laptops, netbooks, and even cell phones with the Windows operating system. Now he wants to redesign how cars work.
Earlier today, a patent filed with the US Patent & Trademark Office was made available for public viewing, detailing an electromagnetic engine that could very well replace the traditional combustible engine, paving the way to energy efficient automobiles of the future. Among the ten inventors listed in the patent--as Searete LLC, part of Intellectual Ventures--is none other than Mr. Windows himself, William H. Gates, III, and Microsoft's former chief technology officer, Nathan Myhrvold. The group originally filed the patent back in October 2007.
As the patent states, the electromagnetic engine "converts mechanical energy of a piston to and from electrical energy during each piston cycle." However, the group also applied for two additional variants of the concept: free-piston and opposed-piston. While the free piston patent uses the same definition, the opposed piston electromagnetic engine is defined as an "engine [that] includes a cylinder having a two pistons slidably disposed therein, a port arranged to admit a reactant into the cylinder between the two pistons, and a converter operable with at least one piston to convert mechanical energy of the piston to electrical energy."
While the patent mentions a "reactant," that doesn't necessarily indicate fuel used today. The patent talks about a liquid reactant injector and a carburetor that would deliver the reactant mixture to the first port of the engine. Another interesting note was the patent's use of a "plasma injector," a terminology widely used in the Star Trek universe. This device--whether its in the form of a spark plug, catalyst, particle beam igniter (that's in there too), or the plasma injector-- is referred to as a reaction trigger, an electrical igniter configured to initiate a chemical reaction in a reactant disposed between the first piston and the closed end of the first cylinder; the reaction trigger is located at the top of the cylinder.
But how does this engine actually work? The electromagnetic engine apparently doesn't need alternating pistons, but rather a set of pistons fitted with electromagnets to speed up the recovery process. With magnets on both ends, the piston is pulled up and down the cylinder. Once the piston reaches the top and fires, it is immediately pulled back down into the cylinder by magnetic force, and then repeats the cycle. According to the patent, the pistons can use either electromagnets, permanent magnets, or a magnetically susceptible material such as an iron core. The energy generated from the reaction trigger could be stored in a battery, capacitor, or some other energy management system.
With that said, there's a good chance an automobile using this type of engine will run on electricity and utilize a rechargeable battery. If the engine is capable of storing energy as the patent suggests, the automobile may not even need an alternator. That may be incorrect of course, however, there's no mistaking that Bill Gates is once again trying to change how things work in everyday things: first with DOS, then Windows, and now with the electromagnetic combustion engine.