An engine or motor is a machine designed to convert one form of energy into mechanical energy. Heat engines burn a fuel to create heat which is then used to do work. Internal combustion engines are heat engines that burn fuel in a combustion chamber to extract work from the pressure of expanding gases. Electric motors convert electrical energy into mechanical motion; pneumatic motors use compressed air; and clockwork motors in wind-up toys use elastic energy. In biological systems, molecular motors, like myosins in muscles, use chemical energy to create forces and eventually motion.
In modern usage, the term engine typically describes devices, like steam engines and internal combustion engines, that burn or otherwise consume fuel to perform mechanical work by exerting a torque or linear force (usually in the form of thrust). Devices converting heat energy into motion are commonly referred to simply as engines. Examples of engines which exert a torque include the familiar automobile gasoline and diesel engines, as well as turboshafts. Examples of engines which produce thrust include turbofans and rockets.
When the internal combustion engine was invented, the term motor was initially used to distinguish it from the steam engine—which was in wide use at the time, powering locomotives and other vehicles such as steam rollers. The term motor derives from the Latin verb moto which means to set in motion, or maintain motion. Thus a motor is a device that imparts motion.
Simple machines, such as the club and oar (examples of the lever), are prehistoric. More complex engines using human power, animal power, water power, wind power and even steam power date back to antiquity. Human power was focused by the use of simple engines, such as the capstan, windlass or treadmill, and with ropes, pulleys, and block and tackle arrangements; this power was transmitted usually with the forces multiplied and the speed reduced. These were used in cranes and aboard ships in Ancient Greece, as well as in mines, water pumps and siege engines in Ancient Rome. The writers of those times, including Vitruvius, Frontinus and Pliny the Elder, treat these engines as commonplace, so their invention may be more ancient. By the 1st century AD, cattle and horses were used in mills, driving machines similar to those powered by humans in earlier times.
Medieval Muslim engineers employed gears in mills and water-raising machines, and used dams as a source of water power to provide additional power to watermills and water-raising machines. In the medieval Islamic world, such advances made it possible to mechanize many industrial tasks previously carried out by manual labour.
In 1206, al-Jazari employed a crank-conrod system for two of his water-raising machines. A rudimentary steam turbine device was described by Taqi al-Din in 1551 and by Giovanni Branca in 1629.
Continuance of the use of the internal combustion engine for automobiles is partly due to the improvement of engine control systems (onboard computers providing engine management processes, and electronically controlled fuel injection). Forced air induction by turbocharging and supercharging have increased power outputs and engine efficiencies. Similar changes have been applied to smaller diesel engines giving them almost the same power characteristics as petrol engines. This is especially evident with the popularity of smaller diesel engine propelled cars in Europe. Larger diesel engines are still often used in trucks and heavy machinery, although they require special machining not available in most factories. Diesel engines produce lower hydrocarbon and CO2 emissions, but greater particulate and NOx pollution, than gasoline engines. Diesel engines are also 40% more fuel efficient than comparable gasoline engines.
The design principles favoured in Europe, because of economic and other restraints such as smaller and twistier roads, leant toward smaller cars and corresponding to the design principles that concentrated on increasing the combustion efficiency of smaller engines. This produced more economical engines with earlier four-cylinder designs rated at 40 horsepower (30 kW) and six-cylinder designs rated as low as 80 horsepower (60 kW), compared with the large volume V-8 American engines with power ratings in the range from 250 to 350 hp, some even over 400 hp (190 to 260 kW).