The most inefficient part of a gearing system is also its most vital: the teeth. While they allow the systems to work, they also introduce vast quantities of frictional losses and, in turn, mechanical wear; this new system uses magnetic levitation to do away with them.
Developed as part of a collaboration of seven European nations, the MAGDRIVE project was first proposed in 2010, and now it's bearing fruit. The team has built two working prototypes using a magnetic gear reducer, along with corresponding frictionless magnetic axles, to produce a transmission system without a single tooth.
The researchers, based at the UC3M research centre in Madrid, have created one device that works at cryogenic temperatures of around -210°C. It uses superconductors to keep the axles floating and stabilise the rotating parts. A second prototype works at room temperature, and replaces the usual toothed cogs with permanent magnets that repel and attract each other, providing a force coupling without physical contact.
While the first device could be used in space (where it's difficult to replace components as they wear out) the second could theoretically be used in any applications. Indeed, the researchers suggest that it could crop up in railroads or the oil industry, though suggest that its lack of lubrication would make it ideal for use sterile environments, too, like the food and drug industries. [MAGDRIVE via GizMag]