A Novel Wheel Module For Narrow Urban Vehicles

  • The new integrated corner module would free automobile makers from developing essential components from scratch.
  • It combines a wheel and an electric motor with steering, suspension, braking, and control system, all under a single unit.

The population of urban areas worldwide is expected to double from 2010 to 2050. The two major growing issues in these areas are traffic congestion and space limitation.

The number of vehicles on roads is also increasing at a significant rate and is projected to quadruple by 2050. Many private organizations and state governments are concerned about global issues such as negative environmental effects of vehicles and fuel consumption. At present, electric vehicles seem to be the best solution to reduce such concerns.

Since the average car occupancy is approximately 1.67 persons per vehicle, manufacturers are focusing more on micro-cars (smaller than average passenger cars).

These cars are still in their infancy: stability, performance, safety and cost-to-build factors aren’t that impressive. And because of their low market share, major automobile companies do not invest their resources and time into designing more appealing, small urban vehicles.

Now, engineers at the University of Waterloo have developed an integrated corner module that would free automobile makers from developing some of the essential components from scratch. It would also enable companies to produce specialized cars economically, even in small quantities.

The Self-Contained Unit

The integrated corner module developed by the engineers is based on a modular design of a traditional wheel. The idea is to provide modularity as well as plug-and-play control functionality.

Basically, it combines a wheel and an electric motor with steering, suspension, braking, and control system, all under a single module. You can say that the wheel unit is a complete vehicle with only one wheel. What’s missing is a body.

Reference: Sage Journals | doi:10.1177/0954407017748810 | University of Waterloo 

In this work, engineers have developed a prototype that delivers 25 horsepower and weighs 40 kg. Along with enabling active wheel cambering, it is supposed to enhance the stability of narrow, tall cars.

More specifically, the unit eliminates drive shafts and steering links, creating more space for passenger comfort and safety. The dual 4-bar linkage works as both the cambering and the steering mechanisms, which enable better load distribution and realization of the corner modules.

Amir Khajepour with a prototype three-wheeled vehicle | Credit: University of Waterloo 

To increase the rollover threshold of narrow vehicles and improve safety, engineers integrated a novel camber mechanism with the suspension mechanism. This combination allowed them to create a virtual kingpin axis and a technique for determining that axis. Overall, the approach enabled a highly compact design of the wheel units.

Read: Self-Driving Vehicles Find It Hard To Detect Dark-Skinned Pedestrians

The team plans to scale up the wheel unit for large utilities and commercial vehicles. This would open new doors for inexpensive production of specialized vehicles with customized bodies, which can be used in a variety of field, ranging from forestry and mining to rescue operations.

Written by
Varun Kumar

Varun Kumar is an experienced science and technology journalist interested in machines, AI, and space exploration. He received a Master's degree in computer science from Indraprastha University. To find out what his latest project is, feel free to directly email him at [email protected] 

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