Issue: Apr 2007


Magnesense LLC



By simplifying a system, you reduce the number of unknowns

by AI Staff

Magnesense LLC is a research and development company started in Maine in 2000 by Joseph B Seale and Gary Bergstrom. They specialize in electromagnetic actuators and related control technology, focusing on electromagnetic engine valves for spark ignition engines for automotive applications and small engines. They have sought to identify weaknesses in the technology and develop marketable solutions
Magnesense has designed and bench-tested automotive-scale and small-engine valve actuators, seeking improvements in performance, economy, and low retooling. The company has a total of 10 patents and is excited about a new engine valve application called Electromagnetic Variable Valve Timing (EVVT), which opens a new frontier for improving internal combustion engines.
Automotive Industries (AI) spoke with Joseph B Seale, one of Magnesense’s founders.
AI: What kind of automotive OEM expertise does Magnesense have? Tell us about the technologies Magnesense offers automotive companies.
Seale: We are newcomers to the automotive field, which is advantageous - we don’t know “How It’s Supposed To Be Done,” so we find new solutions. Gary and I both started with physics and came to engineering from that angle. Gary works with machinists, cranks out custom circuit boards, has designed sensors for a living, and writes the kind of tight embedded code that is needed to do a big job with a cheap micro or DSP chip. I have worked in thermodynamics, fluid dynamics, electromagnetics, and computer simulations from helicopters to medical infusion pumps.
AI: What are the innovations Magnesense has brought to EVVT?
Seale: The biggest single innovation is flux control. We figured out that it’s relatively easy to keep track of magnetic flux, and then to control it, without having to rely on separate sense coils or Hall-effect devices or anything “extra.” When you know position and control flux, you control force. A related innovation is sensorless determination of position.
AI: How have you been marketing this technology to automotive companies and what has the reaction been?
Seale: We have made presentations to engineering groups at several companies. The engineers have been enthusiastic, but the executives have been understandably more reserved - if an automaker introduces a technology that has only been around in a few test vehicles for a few years, and five years down the pike they start getting recalls, that can be a killer. We’re working hard to respond to these concerns. Simplify - by simplifying a system, you reduce the number of unknowns.
AI: Do you think EVVT will play an important role only with hybrids or with regular vehicles as well?
Seale: We anticipate that a non-hybrid car with EVVT can be cheaper than a hybrid and can outperform the hybrid on the highway and anywhere except in stop-and-go traffic. The advantage of EVVT depends on what kind of driving you do. In the near future, the biggest benefit to EVVT will be with your “regular vehicles.” In the long run, EVVT is going to hook up with HCCI, and hybrid technology will complement that combo. After that, we’ll get to see whether hydrogen technology ever becomes “real”. I foresee EVVT is going to play a big role.
AI: What are some of the challenges faced by your company in making your technological breakthroughs known to auto makers? How will you overcome them?
JS: The problem is credibility. We’re two people. We’re outsiders. We can’t create EVVT technology by ourselves, from concept to engines running in cars. Fortunately, we don’t need to do all that. EVVT is going to happen. We decided a long time ago that we could help it happen, and now we have mastered the technologies that we originally identified as critical. We must focus on communicating our knowledge and who we are.

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