Vail engineer designs new electric motor |

Vail engineer designs new electric motor

Tom Hopkins’ Zeus Motor has a smaller, lighter, cheaper electric motor design

The way to break boundaries sometimes is not knowing what those boundaries are. That seems to have happened with Zeus electric motors.

Vail resident Tom Hopkins is CEO of Zeus Motor Inc., a firm that may revolutionize the electric motor industry.
Tom Hopkins/courtesy photo

Zeus CEO Tom Hopkins, a longtime Vail resident, said the Zeus motor is the result of taking on a Cold War idea and modifying it for a different use.

Hopkins, a longtime engineer, was working with a firm called Transport Ventures in the late 1990s and early 2000s on an idea to run a monorail between Denver International Airport and Eagle County Regional Airport.

Hopkins and his colleagues were working at the time on an electric motor design from the Sandia National Laboratories that was first intended to be used on a space-based “rail gun” system to be used to shoot down ballistic missiles. Hopkins saw the potential in transforming the rail gun’s long motor into a circular one that could power items in industry and transportation.

The initial prototypes had problems with excessive heat, meaning the motor wasn’t running efficiently.

“The first motor got so hot, I could cook eggs on it,” Hopkins said. But further development brought the heat down, and the efficiency up.

That effort was aided by Keith Klontz, a top motor designer.

Hopkins recalled that Klontz said the new motor was a strange one, first of all “because you did everything wrong.”

The biggest “mistake” regarded the motor’s size. Electric motors tend to be more efficient with increasing size and weight. Bigger means less stress on a motor’s various components.

Smaller, lighter, cheaper

Hopkins and his colleagues made their motor smaller and lighter, occupying between one-fourth and one-third of the space required for a motor of similar power. That means fewer materials are needed to build the motors. That flipped the usual electric motor paradigm on its head by creating a motor that performed better and cost less than equivalent conventional motors.

The Zeus electric motor is smaller, lighter and less expensive than conventional electric motors.
Zeus Motor Inc./Courtesy photo

The efficiency also means reducing energy use.

Hopkins said there are two potential markets for the Zeus motor.

The first is stationary motors, those used to run conveyor belts, pumps, fans and similar devices.

Hopkins said that’s a potential growth market since many firms are bringing manufacturing back to the U.S.

Then there are traction motors, which are used in vehicles. Hopkins said he envisions using Zeus motors in vehicles ranging from small delivery vehicles to garbage trucks and school buses.

There are small motors for smaller vehicles, of course, but the biggest Zeus motor is rated at 250 horsepower in stationary uses. In transportation uses, that would equate to roughly 1,000 horsepower. That’s a lot. In comparison, a 2022 Toyota Highlander SUV with a V-6 engine is rated at 295 horsepower.

With the motor design in hand, the next step is bringing it to market.

Hopkins said Zeus motors rated between 10 and 30 horsepower weigh less than 150 pounds, the limit for free shipping on Amazon Prime. That service has shown that “people start buying things they never thought of, Hopkins said. “Markets come out of nowhere,” he added.

While there’s potentially a huge market for the Zeus motors, there’s a big difference between designing and manufacturing. That’s why Zeus intends to license motors.

Licensing the future?

Hopkins noted that Zeus’ first corporate counsel once worked for Hewlett-Packard. That firm had great ideas that were soon being copied.

The solution was to charge a low licensing fee, with every licensee agreeing to commit to contributing to litigation against firms illegally copying the technology.

“Every licensee had a decision: pay a low fee or get sued,” Hopkins said.

For investment information

Zeus Motor is running a funding campaign on

Zeus is following that model with a 1.5% license fee. There’s already been interest from an Australian firm that wants a license to build irrigation pumps, Hopkins said. There’s also been interest from a couple of companies in the United Kingdom.

“We think our motor could become ubiquitous,” Hopkins said.

Beyond the hard work done by most electric motors, there could be some highly entertaining uses for Zeus motors.

While Zeus was the leader of the gods in Greek mythology, the name first came from a joint venture for a race car.

Hopkins’ firm, Zero E Technologies, once partnered with the Unser family of New Mexico — legendary in motor racing circles — on an electric car to tackle the Pikes Peak Hill Climb. The name first meant “Zero E Unser Supercar.”

That venture was shelved, but Hopkins said there are still plans to field a car for Pikes Peak. Those ideas are still closely held, but the effort should be remarkable.

And it all started doing everything the wrong way.

“I take no notice of the way things have always been done,” Hopkins said. “I start from fresh.”

By the numbers

90%: Needed efficiency for electric motors.

97%: Current efficiency of the Zeus electric motor.

4,000: Approximate number of 20 horsepower motors below the deck on a U.S. aircraft carrier.

1,762: Average number of electric motors on an average U.S. warship.

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