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The Driven Orbit Drive is a Planetary Bevel Gearbox eBike Motor

driven orbit drive bevel differential gearbox ebike motor prototype
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Driven, a new company spun out of CeramicSpeed, has shown its innovative Orbit Drive transmission for the first time at Eurobike, Frankfurt. The working prototype of this all-in-one gearbox eBike motor weighs a claimed 4.6 kg – including all gears, electronics, and power delivery to the rear wheel – and can be configured to produce up to 90 Nm torque.

The design takes inspiration from systems found inside hybrid cars – like the Toyota Prius, for example. Therein, planetary gears are utilized to mesh the input of the combustion engine with the input of an electric motor, to deliver power to the vehicle.

Driven are taking that concept and, instead of using flat, planetary gearing, their Orbit Drive relies upon a rotating ball-like mechanism that delivers a variable speed ‘bevel differential’. Though the layout is certainly not novel, its application in eBike technology, is.

We are told by Driven, “This is a game changer for the e-bike segment, bringing the highest level of efficiency (more battery range), a more pleasant riding experience, almost zero-maintenance, and a bolt-on solution for e-bike manufacturers”.

Here, Driven’s Head of Engineering, Ryan Norris, takes the time to explain the mechanism using a neat 3D printed model of the concept. And, he does so in terms that don’t require a PhD in mechanical engineering in order to comprehend.

Driven Orbit Drive All-in-one Gearbox eBike Motor

The Driven Orbit Drive is a little further along in its development process than the above 3D printed model might suggest. The company has a working prototype they say is significantly more efficient in its energy usage than any production eBike motor on the market today – upward of 85%, is the claim.

Not only that, but maintenance intervals are set to once every 10,000 miles, with only an oil change required at that point. Clearly, such a design boasts some serious advantages over commonly available eBikes that rely upon a motor and an entirely separate derailleur-operated drivetrain – the pitfalls of which many of us know all too well.

Driven tell us their system also offers a smoother ride experience, with an automatic mode offering step-less shifting with gearing automatically adjusting speed, with the assist motor complementing the rider’s input. Manual mode is also possible, allowing riders to shift through gears as they would on what Driven are calling a “legacy bike”, i.e. a regular bike.

driven orbit ebike gearbox integrated system prototype bike

In addition to the claimed higher efficiency over comparable systems, we are told the Orbit Drive also has a regenerative braking feature to compound that.

Look familiar? This is indeed an eBike evolution of the Driven prototype we saw at Eurobike in 2019

Driven plans to offer three variations on the Orbit Drive to its OEM customers:

  1. Direct Drive – this configuration uses a shaft drive to deliver power from the Orbit Drive to the back wheel. This is the brand’s most efficient unit and it is fully enclosed
  2. Chain Drive – the Orbit Drive with a chain, partially enclosed
  3. Belt Drive – the Orbit Drive with a belt, partially enclosed

We asked Brian Baker, CEO of Driven, why has no one done this yet. His answer…

“One of our marketing pitches is – why hasn’t anyone done this? I’ve been the CEO for one year, and I do not have an answer for that. Everyone took what they are doing at Toyota, on the Prius, and at Stellantis for example – those are all flat planets and sun gears. All we did was take the planet and do that [make it that 3D orbit shape]. Now, it fits right in the middle of a q-factor, and we can get a 1:1 ratio out of the motor. We don’t have to downshift the motor, so we can use smaller motors, and so this whole thing works quite a bit better than a flat, planetary system”.

driven orbit drive bevel differential gearbox ebike motor prototype

Driven has more technology packed into there, too. Unlike most eBike motors on the market today, this one lacks a torque sensor, at least in the traditional sense. Driven hold a key patent for a sensor-less torque sensor.

CEO, Brian Baker, explains…

“There’s an algorithm we’ve developed based on how much torque you’re putting into the system – and thus how much torque the motor sees – from that you can calculate the speed, so you don’t even need sensors at all“.

Ryan Norris continues…

“We’re using the electronics of each motor, and how they talk to each other. So, when they sense you pressing down on the pedal – they know it within about 40 ms, and we’re gonna get that down to about 20 ms, so that’s as fast as a regular torque sensor is. So, we don’t need the torque sensor. And torque sensors are actually pretty expensive, so we’re actually pretty excited that this algorithm works. It’s nothing new. It is used in industrial mechanical design all the time but no one has ever used this in the bike industry before”.

Rendering of the Driven Orbit Direct Drive system with the drive shaft on a full suspension mountain bike; the drive shaft would need to grow and shrink in length to accomodate any changes in rear-center length. Likely, the chain-driven system would find its way onto such bikes before this Direct Drive option.

How much will the Driven Orbit Drive actually cost eBike manufacturers?

We are told that, in terms of the Ride Share market, the Orbit Drive will come in at a middling price point – more than the $800 USD that the cheapest offerings go for, but less than the $1,500 USD that higher-end options go for.

Brian goes on to tell us he is confident that gearbox eBike motors of this design, and similar, will become the most common design in the market over the next 10 years.

Indeed, with the launch of Pinion’s Mission ON:E eDrive earlier this week, the industry certainly seems to be pressing on with integrated solutions to shifting and assistance. Likely, we will see many more such offerings on display in the vast halls of Messe Frankfurt this week.


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George Fleming
George Fleming
10 months ago

Jessie-May Morgan has written many a fine technical article. This one is in a different category.

The device described in this article seems entirely different from the device shown in the pictures and on the manufacturer’s Web site.

“…a rotating ball-like mechanism that delivers a variable speed ‘bevel differential’…” I thought this meant that, in principle, it operates like a Kopp Variator or its copy, the Nuvinci. They transmit power though friction between a set of hard balls and two round plates they run against, the input and the output.  Adjusting the angle of the balls achieves the variation in speed. These devices require a thixotropic fluid to manipulate the  friction.

Further study, however, indicates that the author means a simple differential gear, ancient in principle, that one can imagine as a rotating ball.  But there are no hard balls in this device, no friction, no special fluid and no explanation of how the variable speed is obtained (see below). It is nothing whatsoever like a Kopp.

Describing any part of this mechanism as a planetary gearbox reveals a misunderstanding of the planetary principle. There is no planetary action in this device. Please disregard any such statements.

“… This differential allows for two inputs (a rider and electric power), to combine into one output that drives the back wheel…” [manufacturer’s statement on the Web site].

In other words, it obtains variable speed in the same way that a super-imposing gearbox does, with two independent inputs that determine the output. This is an excellent method. The article does not mention it.

“…available eBikes that rely upon a motor and an entirely separate derailleur-operated drivetrain – the pitfalls of which many of us know all too well…” This is a low blow.

Chain drive with derailleur(s) is the dominant technology for several excellent reasons. It is the most efficient, it is simple, it weights the least and it costs the least. It works fine with a minimum of attention. Since it is dominant, parts are easily found throughout the world.

And it is easy to install a motor on it.

No doubt the Driven Orbit Drive works as advertised. I do not believe it will sell. It is easier to obtain the same results with a simpler and cheaper and lighter and more efficient arrangement, especially one that does not require a special bike frame. That is, there are many ways to install such a system on a standard bike without requiring any modification of the frame.

10 months ago
Reply to  George Fleming

To be fair, this is not an easy article to whip up without a pretty extensive understanding of the mechanics behind it.

The “ball-like” description is not ideal when you know how a Nuvinci CVT works, but few people know that. I got a copy of the Orbit Drive press release today and it uses the term “ball-like” several times (I assume as a result of the 3D printed bevel “ball” shown at 2:20 in the video), so you cannot blame Jesse-May for that.

And planetary gears are described on the differential Wikipedia page, notably under “ring and pinion designs”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Differential_(mechanical_device)

George Fleming
George Fleming
10 months ago

Contrary to what I wrote below, a differential is a planetary device. I stand by the rest of it.

10 months ago

Bevel gears have inherently higher losses that straight gears. Engineering textbooks say that there is at least a 5% loss for every 90º change in the direction of torque. Count them.

10 months ago

So, this is a 3 motor system.
One is the rider legs, connected to the satellite carrier.
The second is connected to right bevel gear = output
The third is connecter do left bevel gear.
By electronicaly controlling the speed ratio between the electric motors you change the mechanical ratio from the legs to the output.

timothy m Washington
timothy m Washington
10 months ago
Reply to  vincent

Think that sum think about when they hitt up Shimano derailleurs cassette mechanical parts that’s moving bike notice different between freely moving, n moving slow fighting against pase they set for adjusted to can scale normal pace get caught up traffic speed steady even pace constantly felt as norm high also forced back on safety prior concern

Last edited 10 months ago by timothy m Washington
Pablo Carrasco
10 months ago
Reply to  vincent

As explained, it works similarly to the Toyota e-CVT. This, when applied to e-bikes, is similar as well to the E2Drives system announced for Decathlon’s bike (there are some other patent applications for e-bikes from different companies).

The working principle is a compound hybrid system using a “power-split” setup. The power split is a 3-axle gear (two inputs and one output or vice-versa) and can be performed using a planetary gear, a differential, or others. Functioning principle:
* The first axle is the BB spindle as the human power input.
* The second axle is connected to the first motor/generator which adds SPEED to the third one, and it is linked in torque with the 1st one; therefore, there is no need for a torque sensor (the electrical intensity t its stator is proportional to the pedaling torque).
* The third axle is connected to the output and, in parallel, to a second motor/generator which adds TORQUE.

Managing the electric power from one motor to the other you choose from high torque (low speed) to high speed (low torque) which indeed acts like a shifting mechanism.

Last edited 10 months ago by Pablo Carrasco
10 months ago

All I had to read was that Ceramicspeed was behind it and I knew it would be full of gimmicks. Take a lofty goal, inject some VC investment, and you get things that make headlines, but don’t make it to market.

Shaft drive was one of the earliest drivetrains applied to bicycles(nearly all other drive systems have been applied decades ago as well), but it has naturally fallen out of favor due to its inherent inflexibility in fitment. It’s lossy, heavy, and requires a special frame. No bueno on all counts. The weight can be reduced, slightly, but the other issues are inherent to the design. No amount of whizbang carbon ceramic pvd cryo-treatment can solve those.

Chains win the efficiency game every single time.

Ed LLorca
Ed LLorca
10 months ago

Interesting but looks heavy. The driveshaft has its own issues. Watching to see where this goes.

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