Motor Entrepreneurs

Father/son duo links high-profile with grit-and-grind

A Silicon Valley entrepreneur has teamed up with a hands-on member of an older generation in an attempt to make more powerful and efficient electric motors that the two hope can be used on everything from ceiling fans to drones.

Brad Hunstable, known for his startup video streaming service Ustream, is in the process of developing what he hopes is a new electric motor prototype. To achieve this, he had to make the move from the high-profile San Francisco technology scene back to his hometown of Granbury, Texas, in order to work with his father.

Hunstable, who sold Ustream to IBM in January for $130 million, seems to have the connections, clout, and finance needed to spearhead a new business. His father, Fred Hunstable, would appear, then, to be the one with the training, technical skills, and experience.

Together, they started a new company, Linear Labs—beginning in 2013—but truly getting off the ground just this year with Brad’s move back home. Doing motor assembly and testing, the two have been working out of a shed in Fred’s backyard, writes Melissa Repko of the Dallas Morning News.

They label the new prototypes “next generation” electric motors. Inspired by the blue-collar, do-it-yourself approach of his father combined with the new age, innovative philosophies of people like Elon Musk, Brad’s second entrepreneurial business venture wondered how to harness a more efficient kind of power—like the power of windmills used for renewable energy—but use it for motors with multiple applications.

Brad, a graduate of West Point who served in the U.S. Military (stateside) for five years, told Repko the idea was born from his father’s reminiscence. The elder Fred, 63, inspired Brad with a story of he and his friends hanging on to pump jacks as children until they were tossed off by their power. After initially forming their first prototypes in the shed, which “resembles a machine shop with a concrete floor, tools, a lineup of motors and a whiteboard with a few words scrawled in marker,” as Repko describes, they sent them to be tested by researchers to see if they were making any progress on efficiency. According to Hunstable, they were, and the research and feedback led to a new, more powerful electric motor with a different configuration and design.

Naturally, details are hard to come by, but a look at a Linear Labs’ abstract gives us some insight as to the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of these motors. Using “magnetic tunnel saturation designs”, the father-son duo and their investors claim to offer extremely high flux confinement and flux densities, allowing “unparalleled conductor field saturation” using conventional magnetic materials technologies. “Unlike all machines used today the smallest current is turned into a motive force. No current is consumed to establish a electro-magnetic field and there are no alternating magnetic poles thus best power factor available…As near to unity power factor as it is possible to get!” Well, we’ve seen efficiency hype all too often before, but to the duo’s credit, this idea at least appears to have the capital and research to back it: it received $150,000 in one round of startup funding on CrunchBase, its principal site, and also passed a five month study by the Renewable Energy and Vehicular Technology Lab at the University of Texas at Dallas.

Fred told Repko the new models could have “universal” applications, including more traditionally seen kinds such as ceiling fans and drills, all the way to drones and automobiles. They expect the highly touted efficiency to have versatility across the entire rpm/torque range, “not just at one point on a graph.” The company also contends that if applied to electric vehicles, new battery technology wouldn’t be required to supplement the motors to get gasoline equivalence. Lastly, they claim the prototype would be a game-changer for industrial motors, as well, allowing them to respond instantly to changing loads and continue to operate after a fault.

The next steps in the Hunstables’ plan are mainly to materialize the blueprint they’ve outlined: creating a line of motors with multiple applications, pursuing licensing agreements with manufacturing plants, and developing patents. Tangential goals include fighting pollution and reducing carbon footprint, and helping the Dallas area flourish. He might look like a tech-savvy guy at first glance, but Brad Hunstable’s current path shows the door is always open to linking up with (and learning from) the old guard, as well as coming back home to develop your success further.

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