BMW Invests $25 Million in Silicon Valley-based Software Motor Company

BMW Invests $25 Million in Silicon Valley-based Software Motor Company

Author: Eric Walz   

As the auto industry continues on its path towards electrification, automakers around the world are investing in technologies that will help them develop more efficient electric vehicles. The latest investment by BMW is a company working to make electric motors more efficient with software.

BMW i Ventures, the EUR 500 million venture capital fund of German automaker BMW, announced today a $25 million investment in Silicon Valley-based Software Motor Company (SMC). The company is developing technology to create the "world's most efficient electric motor." 

SMC will use the funds to scale its business accelerate product development.

SMC was founded in 2013 and is based in Sunnyvale, California. Up until now, the company has primarily focused on improving the efficiency of inductive motors used in commercial HVAC system to cool and heat large buildings. With the investment from BMW i Ventures, SMC is moving into the automotive sector. The company's technology shows promise in making electric vehicle powertrains more efficient, thereby increasing an EV's range.

"HVAC retrofit was the first step to drive adoption of our technology, but the applications for our software-defined motor systems are ubiquitous, and we foresee adoption into electric vehicles as clear future markets for SMC," said SMC executive chairman, Ryan Morris.

SMC is working to improve the AC induction motor, which was invented back in 1910 and has remained relatively unchanged. Morris said in 2018 that SMC "aims to disrupt an industry that has seen little innovation over the last 40 years."

The problem with analog induction motors is that are most efficient when run at full speed, but suffer from performance issues caused by electrical resistance when current is reduced. However, for many industrial applications, induction motors are not always required to run at full speed.

Since these motors turn by inducing a current in the rotor, variable speed drivers can be used to slow induction motors down. However, the electrical resistance used to slow them down produces additional heat, which can cause damage and reduce its service life. This method also requires a more efficient cooling system in some applications.

SMC has developed software to control the operation of induction motors, squeezing out as much power from the motor efficiently while protecting it from heat. The company's technology is based on "switched reluctance" and is managed by advanced cloud-based software, which can be used to vary the motor's speed.

"Electric motors are a massive, $100B market, and they move our modern world, while consuming over 45% of the world's electricity. So investing in a company that can deliver huge electrical cost savings, while selling motor systems that are lower cost, more reliable, and made from more sustainable materials seems like a no-brainer," said Greg Smithies of BMW i Ventures.

SMC also has the ability to reduce the energy required during the vehicle manufacturing process by retrofitting its demanding HVAC systems. SMC said that large manufacturing facilities can consume tens-of-megawatts of power. A significant portion of that is used by industrial machinery and HVAC systems to heat and cool the facility. 

The high cost and range of electric vehicles is a barrier to overcome before they become mainstream. SMC's technology allows automakers to use lower cost motors and reduce the size of the battery pack while offering comparable range by boosting the efficiency of the electric motor.

"SMC's unique architecture has the potential to improve the efficiency, cost, and safety of developing electric drivetrains, while reducing dependence on unsustainable rare earth minerals. That is a huge opportunity across all vehicle manufacturers," Smithies said.

SMC's vision is to eliminate the 25% of global electricity consumption that is wasted by legacy electric motors, thereby helping to accelerate the world's transition from fossil fuels.

BMW i Ventures, BMW's EUR 500 million venture capital fund, invests money and resources in startups in the fields of autonomous driving, digital car and automotive cloud, e-mobility, AI, data and other related technologies.  BMW i Ventures invests in all stages from seed to growth companies.

Eric Walz
Eric Walz
Originally hailing from New Jersey, Eric is a automotive & technology reporter covering the high-tech industry here in Silicon Valley. He has over 15 years of automotive experience and a bachelors degree in computer science. These skills, combined with technical writing and news reporting, allows him to fully understand and identify new and innovative technologies in the auto industry and beyond. He has worked at Uber on self-driving cars and as a technical writer, helping people to understand and work with technology.
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