We may marvel at the two-wheel enclosed motorcycle balanced by twin gyroscopes, as well as by a hybrid electric vehicle’s regenerative braking system which recovers the energy normally wasted during deceleration.
While regenerative braking in a hybrid electric vehicle stores the energy electrically, well, chemically. Would you believe the regenerative braking system used in Formula 1 Racing, referred to as Kinetic Energy Recovery System [KERS], is actually closer to a system devised by automobile designer Alex Tremulis, 50 years ago?
Formula 1 KERS isn’t an electrical system, but mechanical. A gearing system transfers the energy from the drivetrain to a massive flywheel, slowing down the vehicle and speeding up the flywheel. The stored energy in the flywheel can then be used again on acceleration, transferring back to the drivetrain. This isn’t a new idea, though, Alex Tremulis, a designer at Ford, combined a mechanical KERS and gyroscopic technology in the Gyro-X, shown as a concept in 1961.
The Gyro-X is powered by a 80hp 1.3ℓ BMC engine, which was enough to do two things, propel the vehicle forwards and spin the 22” gyroscope to somewhere between 4,000rpm and 6,000rpm. Due to it’s aerodynamic shape and thin frontal cross-section, 80hp was enough to take the predecessor up to 245mph.
The gyroscope, on the other hand, kept the vehicle upright, from zero to max speed, no matter whether the vehicle was traveling straight or on hairpin curves, thanks for the gyroscope’s ability to generate up to 1,300lb•ft of torque.
The KERS innovation comes from the mechanical nature of the gyroscope, essentially just a giant flywheel. During braking, the gyroscope could store the vehicle’s kinetic energy, slowing the vehicle and speeding up the gyroscope. This made standing still very stable with the higher speed, but then on acceleration, some of that energy could be redirected into the drivetrain.
KERS and gyro technology are some fifty years old now, and the Gyro-X is being restored at the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville, just in time to celebrate Alex Tremulis‘ 100th birthday, January 13, 2014.