Re-inventing the wheel

Imagine a car using spheres as wheels ... Credit: Goodyear

We are usually using the expression "re-inventing the wheel" to mean a wasted effort. The wheel has been along for so much time (the accepted history goes back 5,500 years ago to the Sumerian civilisation, originally used not for transport but for pot making)  that you cannot really not know about it and it is indeed a wasted effort to create something that already exist.

Yet, re-inventing the wheel is exactly what Goodyear has done earlier this year and this has been recently acknowledged by Time Magazine including it into the best invention of 2016.

Goodyear is proposing to substitute the well known wheel with a sphere, actually a 3D printed sphere that can be customised to any specific need. The material used in the "core" of the sphere are magnetic making it a big magnet.

The idea is to get rid of axles and use magnetic force as the binder between the wheel and the chassis. The chassis would also work as an opposing magnet transferring the torque generated by the (electric) motor to the wheel, making it spin. By regulating the transfer of torque one can direct the wheel to turn, each one independent of the other car wheels, to accelerate and to brake.

Not being bound to an axles each wheel can spin in any direction so the car can move in any direction, including sideways, making parking a breeze (look at the clip).

It is not yet and invention though, it is more a concept. There are many hurdles on the way to make this a reality. A good deal has to do with the materials required (both for the wheel and the chassis). Superconducting material would be a perfect choice, but we do not have superconducting material working at our everyday temperature (even the best one so far recorded operates at -70°C and in very specific conditions). 

In the next decade we are foreseen significant leaps in material design and there might be some solutions around the corner. Besides, other implementation not based on superconductivity may also become feasible (where feasibility refers both to technical/industrial feasibility and to its economical affordability). 

Clearly, once a wheel morphs into a sphere new designs become possible and this invention would likely prompt many others.

Author - Roberto Saracco

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