Researchers at the University of Waterloo have developed a sophisticated wheel unit. The self-contained unit combines a tire and wheel and an electric motor with braking, suspension, steering and a control system in a single module designed to be bolted to any vehicle frame.

Use of this module would free manufacturers from making huge investments to develop those components from scratch and enable the economical production of specialized vehicles in even small quantities. Vehicles could be affordably produced for a wide variety of specialized purposes using a sophisticated wheel unit.

Amir Khajepour, a mechanical and mechatronics engineering professor at Waterloo said, “The idea is modularity and plug-and-play control capability. Our wheel unit, in a sense, is a full vehicle with only one wheel. All that’s missing is a body.”

Prof. Amir Khajepour stands next to a vehicle containing his new wheel unit. Image Credit: University of Waterloo. Click image for the largest view.

Automotive researchers first applied the concept to electric, two-seater urban cars, which promise to ease congestion and reduce pollution, but make up only a tiny fraction of sales because of high prices, space limitations and safety concerns.

Mass-produced wheel units would significantly reduce production costs while also creating space for passengers that would otherwise be devoted to mechanical components such as steering columns.

To improve the stability of the tall, narrow cars, researchers also designed and prototyped the units – which weigh about 40 kilograms and have about 25 horsepower – to enable active wheel cambering, or tilting.

“Companies will be able to produce a smaller car that is cheaper, too,” said Khajepour, director of the Mechatronic Vehicle Systems Lab. “Right now, we are not there. You have to pay more to get a smaller car, to get less.”

The next step in the research involves scaling up the wheel unit, technically called a corner module, for large utility and commercial vehicles.

That would pave the way for more cost-effective production of low-volume, specialized vehicles with customized bodies in fields including mining, forestry and rescue operations.

“It’s an economy of scale problem,” Khajepour said. “Corner modules would allow us, without enormous development costs, to make vehicles that are specific for each application, for each function, by concentrating only on the design of the body and the user interface.”

One can look forward to seeing this someday as its a very good idea. Its actually possible now with the acceleration of electric powered vehicles. The barriers out there for road use are substantial, though, just starting with the bureaucratic maze, various national rule sets ad infinitum. But the optimist may see this the other way as the high strength suspension, motor and brakes are all engineered in. That offers unlimited innovation potential for everything else. Methinks I need three for my project . . .

The research paper, Development of A Novel Integrated Corner Module for Narrow Urban Vehicles has been published in the journal Proceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Part D: Journal of Automobile Engineering.


1 Comment so far

  1. Plastic granulator on April 4, 2019 3:12 AM

    This article brought me a lot

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