Reinventing The Wheel
With the world population currently in excess of 7.5 Billion and still predicted to increase, there has never been so many cars on the road in all of human history. Coupled with the fact that these cars are ballooning in size; car parking space has become a precious commodity and a serious problem. Indeed for many a universal equivalent of Tesla's Smart Summon, which automatically finds a space for you, cannot come quock enough. More on that here.
A situation most will be familiar with are those instances when you think you’ve been graced with a stroke of luck by stumbling across a spot in a prime location. Only to find the reason it’s empty, is because every other driver has decided against trying to squeeze their car into a gap, barely longer than the vehicle itself.
Instead of salvation you find only frustration at your goal being so close and yet so far from being achieved - driving off to resume your task and end up searching further and further away from your intended destination.
An Old Solution
Parking has always been an issue as long as cars have been common, and in the 1930’s an aspiring inventor by the name of Brooks Walker attempted to solve the problem by introducing a fifth wheel to help.
Despite his efforts, the idea never took off with automotive manufacturers, perhaps primarily because of the high cost of installation. He carried on developing the idea throughout his life - refining it to be an add on to most vehicles and using up minimal boot space, however never realising his goal.
His solution was to make use of the spare wheel. The system could be mounted either internally or externally to the back of the car where the wheel could be lowered hydraulically to lift the rear wheels off the floor. The wheel was also powered by the transmission, allowing it to swing the rear end into the space after the front had been driven in.
It made parallel parking significantly easier and quicker, and even helped with turning the car around in a tight spot.
Fast forward half a century and another budding inventor has further developed the idea, in a way which seems every bit as far fetched as it’s predecessor, only wonderfully more complex.
A new type of wheel that can move in multiple directions has been engineered by William Liddard, which achieves the aims of Walker’s fifth wheel by having only…err…eight wheels instead. Sort of.
This wheel achieves omnidirectional travel by instead of having a flat surface tyre circumventing the wheel rim, the tyre is instead shaped as a tube – which can revolve when driven by a set of motors contained within the wheel rim. This allows the wheel to travel sideways as the tyre itself essentially rolls sideways, and can even spin the car on the spot if different wheels are revolving in different directions. And we though airless tyres were cool!
The units are doubled up on the prototype, presumably for additional grip as the tube shape would limit the amount of tyre that comes in contact with the road surface, necessitating the extra tyre. The prototype does also seem to use quite small size wheels, further reducing the size and therefore grip of the tyres – and could benefit from being used on a larger scale.
Like Walker before him, Liddiard has designed the system to be an upgrade to existing vehicles to make it as accessible and appealing as possible.
It’s a solid effort from an individual, and one can’t help but wonder how much potential the system could have, if it’s put through the further development and refinement a large investment would provide. Seeing a car designed from scratch to make full use of technology would also likely give a better idea of what’s truly possible.
Is the Liddiard wheel going to be another fifth wheel, or will the automotive industry pay attention this time? We’ll just have to wait and see.