Robert Sansone is a natural born engineer. From animatronic hands to high-speed running boots and a go-kart that can reach speeds of more than 70 miles per hour, the Fort Pierce, Florida-based inventor estimates he’s completed at least 60 engineering projects in his spare time. And he’s only 17 years old.
A couple years ago, Sansone came across a video about the advantages and disadvantages of electric cars. The video explained that most electric car motors require magnets made from rare-earth elements, which can be costly, both financially and environmentally, to extract. The rare-earth materials needed can cost hundreds of dollars per kilogram. In comparison, copper is worth $7.83 per kilogram.
“I have a natural interest in electric motors,” says Sansone, who had used them in different robotics projects. “With that sustainability issue, I wanted to tackle it, and try and design a different motor.”
The highschooler had heard of a type of electric motor—the synchronous reluctance motor—that doesn’t use these rare-earth materials. This kind of motor is currently used for pumps and fans, but it isn’t powerful enough by itself to be used in an electric vehicle. So, Sansone started brainstorming ways he could improve its performance.