You’ve heard the saying, “no need to reinvent the wheel.” But that’s just what a group of engineering students at San Jose University in California are doing. And we here at E3 Spark Plugs are wondering if this might be the next big thing in automotive design – theoretically, anyway.
Inspired by the self-balancing technology used in developing the Segway personal transport and a Tokyo-built balancing robot (and perhaps that Audi RSQ concept from I, Robot), three mechanical engineering students set out to apply the same principles to a motorcycle device. Max Ratner, Henry Li and Andrew Parmar went through a slew of design sketches before firing on the one you see above, featuring two tube cage-enclosed massive spheres in place of boring ol’ tires.
“This is more of a proof of concept,” Parmar said, acknowledging that the prospect of roadways full of sphere-cycles is more likely to be seen in a Hollywood sci-fi flick long before it’s experienced in reality. “We want to show that something like this is actually possible.”
The prototype’s industrial rubber-covered carbon fiber and fiberglass spheres are controlled by three electric motors and some pretty cool software. Potential pros are zero turning radius and the ability to immediately change direction and move perpendicularly, which would take some serious angst out of parallel parking and perhaps help avoid crashes. Some say it could make riding safer as the spheres can’t suddenly turn sideways and jackknife as on a traditional bike. Shperical wheels also could have practical applications for other machinery types such as forklifts. But there’s still a lot of work to be done, particularly when it comes to making the spheres safe on wet and bumpy roads.
“We’re taking it one step at a time,” said Ratner, whose team still is tweaking the software. “Road applications are farther down the road and will require further R&D.”
What do you think? Are spherical wheels the future of automotive design? If safety issues were addressed, would you drive on them? Post your thoughts on the E3 Spark Plugs Facebook fan page. And just for kicks, here’s that spherical-wheeled Audi RSQ in I, Robot action.