Students Design Spherical-Drive Motorcycle Concept
Prototype won't be road-ready anytime soon, but does show promise for other applications.
It looks like something out of a Mad Max movie, and it still is a fantasy mobile. But the spherical-drive motorcycle concept that a group of engineering students at San Jose University dreamed up and then designed does have potential to be applied in several transportation applications, even if it’s not hitting the highway anytime soon.
The idea was developed by Max Ratner, Henry Li and Andrew Parmar after the trio brainstormed how to apply an omnidirectional-drive system to a motorcycle. Taking design and engineering cues from the Segway personal transport's self-balancing technology and also from a Japanese balancing robot, the mechanical engineering students decided to apply the same principles to a two-wheeled vehicle as a proof-of-concept. After going through a number of changes, they came up with the current design that rides on two large spheres encircled in a tube cage, and formed a Spherical Drive System.
Three electric motors control the spheres and provide small inputs, via proprietary software, to keep the unconventional vehicle upright. The technology allows the bike to have a zero turning radius, and the designers say anyone can ride it, regardless of skill level or physical condition. They also say that the motorcycle can instantly change direction and move perpendicular to its previous path of travel.
While the students aren't exploring getting a real vehicle into production anytime soon, the technology could be used in industries other than automotive, and the three principals have already lined up sponsors.
The technology is perfect for forklifts, for example, since the design's remarkable maneuverability could be a huge advantage for these and similar material-handling vehicles. And it could be applied to other forms of personal mobility, which is predicted to grow as "dual-mode" transportation becomes more popular as traffic congestion increases in cities.
Calling themselves Spherical Design Systems, the design team is getting assists from Silicon Valley sponsors such as Wolfe Engineering, which formulated the frame for the initial prototype, and Moog Animatics, which provided the vehicle's motors. Now that they have the physical hardware complete, the team’s next task is to complete the programming and prove that the prototype can balance on its own and maneuver on a smooth surface.
Spherical Drive System has set up a YouTube channel to show off its work -- the video below shows an early test of the omnidirectional drive system -- and a Facebook page that allows those interested to follow its progress.
I wish that they could modify my 1999 Suzuki Hayabusa. That omni directional drive would be a blast but I wouldn't give up my engine for those electric motors. Oh well I would love to try one anyway.
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