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'.