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reinventing the wheel 

Since the first invention of the wheel, humankind has gained new mobility and freedom. Early wheels were built as wooden discs and later with spokes around 2700 B.C. An important engineering advance came with the wheel and axle, with applications as simple as a doorknob or intricate as a mechanical clock. (encyclopedia.com)

Recently, CSOIS students, faculty, and staff at Utah State University have developed a key enabling technology concept called the 'smart wheel'. This is a self-contained wheel module with a steering motor, drive motor, and an innovative slip ring that allows data and power to pass from the chassis to the wheel without a wired connection. The slip ring allows infinite rotation in the steering degree of freedom.

CSOIS robots employ multiple smart wheels attached to a chassis, called omni-directional vehicles or ODVs. Combined with vehicle electronics, planning and control systems, and environmental sensors, CSOIS has developed omni-directional vehicles (ODVs) for autonomous and semi-autonomous applications.

Different from traditional Ackerman-steered vehicles (automobiles) or a tracked vehicle that must use skid-steering (forklifts), ODVs allow the vehicle to drive a path with independent orientation and motion in the X-Y plane. ODVs can be thought of as 'hovercraft on wheels'.

An enhanced smart wheel design includes Z-axis actuation for up to three degrees of freedom. With six enhanced smart wheels, a vehicle can even climb stairs. An enhanced ODV can be thought of as a 'helicopter on wheels'.