Brushless servomotors are essential in NASA applications such as mobile manipulation on rovers and for satellite navigation, control, and positioning where the motors must remain in active service indefinitely. Unlike stepper motors, they do not induce unwanted vibrations aboard sensitive spacecraft. And, unlike brushed motors, brushless servomotors have high torque density, add no brush friction, do not generate contaminating dust, and have much longer life times. The use of brushless motors usually requires custom and expensive electronics that are often larger than the motors they control. This is especially true for small motors that operate below 100 watts. Frequently, the power required for the controller itself is greater than the power needed at the motor. One Fortune-100 customer is interested in purchasing initial sample units, but if technically successful, they would become a regular customer of a commercial version of the P3, thereby making these devices commercially available to NASA as affordable common-off-the-shelf (COTS) components.
As machines become more intelligent through embedded processing and sensor fusion we expect them to do more too, improving not only industrial productivity, but our quality of life as society ages. While embedded processors and MEMS-based sensors have become tiny, highly effective, and affordable; similar improvements in servomotors have evolved more slowly. At fractional-horsepower levels the power electronics contribute significantly to total motor-system bulk and complexity. Providing smaller and more efficient servoelectronics will enable OEMs to increase the competitiveness of their products. For example, robots will become more agile with additional degrees of freedom and less mass to accelerate. New fuel-cell designs combined with ultra-high motor efficiency will enable affordable prostheses with true dexterity instead of 0 or 1 degree of freedom; and orthotics will begin to assist human motions intelligently, rather than passively bracing.