The best place to see model engineering at its best is the annual North American Model Engineering expo held each year in the Michigan or Ohio area. They display everything from half scale farm tractors to working motors the size of a No. 2 pencil eraser. Some amazingly talented people (most seem to be retired tool and die men) create and display the most amazing working models purely for the fun and challenge.
WHY is it any of your concern how this fellow spends his time & money? IF your neighbor enjoys fishing, and you see no real value in it, do you tell him he's ridiculous for pursuing his hobby/enjoyment?
I think your position regarding this engine development is at the least, ludicrous, and at the worst, arrogant to the nth degree!
IF nothing ever comes of the the knowledge gained by this exercise, so be it. But, those involved thought through a difficult problem to an acceptable solution. I say, BRAVO! to them. Hopefully, some young engineers reading this article will become fascinated to the point of nurturing a "seed" in their own minds!
Sometimes going one way with research or development ends up nowhere near the expected destination, and that can be a good thing. Not always, to be sure, but sometimes it can change the world. Years ago there were a couple of books that explored the phenonmenon: James Burke's Connections and Joel Barkers book on future (I forged the exact name). Also, there can be a time lag in the time it takes to get from the original thought to a useful application, not to mention an optimized solution of that application: to wit see link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lohner-Porsche . 1901 idea coming around again.
Personally, I think it's great. I'd bet some application will be found, though it may be at a less than 8 cylinder size, and maybe not used in a "vehicle" as we know it.
>> he hopes to scale up his runs to between 150 and 180 of the units, which cost between $5,600 and $7,500 each.
This gives a hint into the purpose of the effort. A lot of us think it's worthwhile simply because it's cool, but there appear to be people that think it's cool enough to trade their money to own one. This makes the effort both a cool and practical use of time/resources.
It's a cute project, and I understand perfectly how he must have felt when it worked. I wondered how a teflon engine coating such as Slick 50 would work here? I put that into the 1.8 liter motor in my Pontiac Firebird and got 15% better mileage and drove that car well into the 200k range, 230 IIRC,
I agree, we never know at first where our ideas will lead. I think it is a good strategy to "waste" a certain amount of time just exploring mentally and building a few prototypes. It's also a lot of fun and you never know where the ideas and techniques you find will be useful.
As for applications, I would think that improving battery technology especially energy density would make electric motors a better choice since they are so much simpler mechanically. The complexity of a single cylinder/piston subassembly in any internal combustion engine is greater than the entire electric motor of similar size.
The power curve is much flatter with loads of torque immediately. The Tesla cars have only one gear, and reach 60 in 3.9, 5.9 or 6.5 seconds depending on how much money you put into the battery size.
This reminds me of the change from steam to diesel in locomotives. Newer tech is simpler and costs less, but the old school stuff is more fun to work with, and easier to understand because you can see different parts pushing and pulling.
I bought my 91 Honda CRX for 5 grand a decade ago. Spent a couple of grand on over the years, great car. Something like this looks like throwing good time after bad, unless you happen to be Jay Leno. Now if he owns one that is a different story...