Robots with square wheels?

Robots with square wheels?

Summary: About eighteen months ago, I told you about a tricycle with square wheels which needed a specially designed road. But now, a company is launching square wheel robots which propel themselves on flat surfaces by taking advantage of gravity.

TOPICS: Emerging Tech

About eighteen months ago, I told you about a tricycle with square wheels which needed a specially designed road. But now, Distributed Robotics, a company from Troy, N.Y., is developing robots with square wheels which don't need specific roads. These new 'cars' propel themselves on flat surfaces by taking advantage of gravity. This might sound crazy, but the inventors think it could lead to new robots and toys, and more generally to new micro-machines or MEMS applications.

Here is the introduction from this joint press release from Global Composites, Inc. and Distributed Robotics.

A new method of locomotion has recently been invented that may prove useful in many scales of operation. While the title suggests a very narrow topic, there are in fact many interesting variations that arose during the development of this patent pending device. The application of which include robots, micro machines, novelty toys, and others.

So how does the prototype work?

The first prototype consisted of a car with 4 square wheels, in the general configuration of a typical car, with all 4 wheels mechanically connected together so they must all turn in unison. Furthermore, the rotational orientation of the wheels are sequentially off-set from one wheel to the next by 22.5° (¼ of 90°), moving around the vehicle in a CW or CCW direction as viewed from above.
"The weight shifting that propels the car is facilitated by a weight offset laterally from the center of the car that is moved in a rotational manner around the center of the car," says inventor Jason Winckler of Global Composites. "The rotation is provided by a driven shaft extending vertically from the center of the car, with a lateral arm and off-set weight. As the shaft rotates, the weigh shifts in a circular manner around the car."

Below is a picture of this square wheel robot in action (Credit: Global Composites, Inc.).

The square wheel robot -- image #1

This picture, as the other one below, has been extracted from this short video (Credit: Global Composites, Inc.).

The square wheel robot -- image #2

Here are more details about the prototype.

The main driving force for the table top prototype is produced by gravity pulling downward. Other forces that could hold the car against a surface, and provide the moving force necessary to increment the car along, include aerodynamic, hydrodynamic, magnetic, electromagnetic, and electrostatic. Such forces could be independent of the car mass, and could thus propel the vehicle with much greater force and velocity. In some instances, these forces could provide their own means to move from wheel to wheel, eliminating the central motor used in the prototype.

Here is a link to a slightly different version of the press release mentioned above, Reinventing the Wheel (PDF format, 2 pages).

Now what do you think? Is a square wheel robot viable? And can it really be useful? And is the company really serious?

Sources: Global Composites, Inc. news release, December 2, 2005; and various web sites

You'll find related stories by following the links below.

Topic: Emerging Tech

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  • Why?

    It's an interesting project... but if you have enough power to spin that arm, why wouldn't you just apply it to the wheels instead?
    • Centralized power supplied & Simpler robotic design

      What this does is allow a mechanical system to replace an electrical one. Instead of having a relatively complicated (read: prone to failure) motor driving the unit, there's just one swinging arm.

      This also allows the drive power supplies to be centralized: You can create a polarized magnetic field that could pull the arm and serve as the power supply for the unit's mobility, allowing the on-unit batteries to last longer for not needing to power a motor.

      Among other things... granted, this is more of a toy, but I wouldn't be surprised if someone started something more interesting with this proof-of-concept working.
      • circular logic

        >What this does is allow a mechanical system to replace an electrical one.

        No, what this does is allow a mechanical and electrical system to replace a purely electrical one. Your polarized magnets won't provide repeatable motion unless the magnets periodically reverse: that takes electricity. That's called an electric motor.
    • New inventions

      Almost every invention or technology that "changed the world" started as a interesting idea with no practical use. Only god knows where this could lead.
      Converting potential energy (which is practically free) to kinetic energy (which is expensive) has been around for ages, but renewing the potential energy source has always required an input of an equal amount of kinetic energy, which defeats the purpose.
      If this process can be used in such a way as to "steal" gravitational energy to reload the potential side, it will be truly revolutionary. At that point, people will FIND a way to make it practical.
      • thanks

        well put, thats exactly right

        im actually the inventor thanks for the positive post
        Dr. web
    • Message has been deleted.

  • Holy Grail

    If that actually works, then a kid has come up with the single most important scientific discovery in history.
    The implications are enormous.
    Forget moving little cars, think power generation.
    It's an unlimited source of power if it works.
    Cold fusion, eat your heart out.
    And to think it took a kid to do it - fantastic.
  • All this really prooves

    Is that some people have time to waste.
    • You mean on message boards? (NT)

      (NT) means no text.
  • It still has to use energy... turn the arm. And it needs all of its wheels to be in linked rotation, so the mechanical linkages are still needed, so... why not link them to the motor, duh?

    This thing is a toy, and will probably sell many copies, and will likely induce many dimbulbs to pursue zero-point energy and perpetual-motion engines.

    Speaking of which...what is this "polarized magnetic field"? Did you just invent this? Polarized how? Do i dare assume you mean "circularly" polarized? That would be the same as having only one pole, would it not; such that a north pull would forever yank the south pole of a magnet on the arm, causing the arm to spin?

    That would be equivalent to separating the two poles of a magnet into separate bodies, and putting one on the arm to rotate, while somehow stretching the other pole to cover the orbit-circle, and yet pull at an angle.

    I'm not surprized if you're confused by that; so am i. How would you accomplish something like "polarizing" a magnet? Or is there something i don't know? As far as i know, a magnet is like a rubber band that cannot be wound up. It takes energy to cut across magnetic lines of force, so any swinging would take energy to drive it.
  • Message has been deleted.

  • I have another toy to sell you...

    It's a chain of linked modules, each riding on two wheels, each pair being mounted off-center on their common axle. The first module exerts enough push to get the others to roll "up" on their axles, and from then on, it's a free ride; the following modules supply enough energy on their "down" swing, to raise the lead module back up to the max-grav-point, and the cycle repeats.

    I had one of these when i was a kid, but i could never get it to work right. The ducks went up and down okay, but i had to keep pulling on the string...
  • Message has been deleted.

  • Message has been deleted.

  • Well, it's interesting...but...

    aside from being a nifty little experiment in gravity I don't see the practical application. It's certainly not as efficient as a real car as it can't once the square wheels are up to full speed and the rotator do the vehicle...immediately. If this robot were large and were to break down how would you move it? You'd need a crane, versus regular wheels where you could just push it. Also, the rotating arm and square wheels would cause a bit of constant jarring...making it impracticale for human use...and I don't see how a robot would benefit either as the camera would be jarring as well. Also, the weight of the rotator would cause the dimensions of the vehicle to be quite larger than normal...possibly not fitting into doorways. And let's not even talk about the wear and tear on those wheel corners.

    Yeah, I guess I'm not really seeing any use for this, nor a company founded around it.
  • RE: Robots with square wheels?

    this guys a genius, itd be amazing in the application for MEM's
    Dr. web