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Good, Cheap Vibrations

Today’s small electric motors-common in electronics from toys to CD-ROM drives-are complex, noisy and inaccurate at slow speeds. Elliptec, a Dortmund, Germany, spinoff from Siemens, has developed a simple and inexpensive piezoelectric motor, which uses the electrically induced vibration of special ceramic materials to spin a wheel or move a rod. Earlier piezoelectric motors cost hundreds of dollars; Elliptec’s gadgets may reach market at $1 each, thanks to new materials and a simpler three-part design that makes them easy to manufacture. The penny-sized gadget is quiet, one-twelfth the weight of a traditional electromagnetic motor, needs no gearbox and can generate a wide range of exact speeds, according to Elliptec president Bjoern Magnussen. Its first application is likely to be in robotic dolls and toys that could use several such motors to produce realistic eye and mouth movements. Magnussen says the company began shipping prototypes to toymakers and other electronics companies earlier this year.

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