The Mecanum Wheel or Airtrax Cobra, the omnidirectional wheel!
The Mecanum wheel is a design for a wheel which can move a vehicle in any direction. Its Swedish inventor, Bengt Ilon, came up with the idea in 1973 when he was an engineer with the Swedish company Mecanum AB. It is a conventional wheel with a series of rollers attached to its circumference. These rollers typically each have an axis of rotation at 45° to the plane of the wheel and at 45° to a line through the center of the roller parallel to the axis of rotation of the wheel. Airtrax is designed to move industrial equipment and to move it quickly and it is unlike anything we’ve seen before.
Tracked vehicles and skid steer vehicles utilize similar methods for turning. However, these vehicles typically drag across the ground while turning and may do considerable damage to a soft or fragile surface. The high friction against the ground while turning also requires high torque engines to overcome the friction. By comparison, the design of the Mecanum wheel allows for in-place rotation with minimal ground friction and low torque.
So far, this technology has found its purpose for slow-moving industrial vehicles that need to be able to move into tight spaces at low speeds, such as the hydraulic scaffold, forklift truck, aircraft carrier, etc. But who knows what the future can bring?
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