Some day in the future, it's possible that an unmanned rover may go trundling across the Martian landscape not on wheels, but on three rotating steel coils. While able to traverse rugged terrain without getting stuck, it could also move sideways to get around obstacles, would be unlikely to malfunction as it would have very few moving parts, and could perhaps even remain mobile if it were to take a tumble and flip over. Although such a vehicle might not be exploring Mars any time particularly soon, a fully-functioning prototype does already exist here on Earth, and its design could find terrestrial applications.
The proof-of-concept device is remotely-piloted by a human operator, via a standard hobbyist's radio-control system.
The Y-layout and rounded edges of the screws on Lexen's rover, by contrast, allows for complete omnidirectional (or holonomic) drive - this means it can move in any direction, without having to turn to face that direction itself. This could be particularly useful when trying to get around obstacles in tight quarters. While a typical wheeled vehicle would need room to move forward or backward in order to perform its arcing turns, the rover could simply stop at obstacles, then execute sideways right-angle "turns" while still facing the same direction.
It should be noted that some indoor wheeled vehicles are also able to achieve holonomic motion via independently-swiveling caster-like wheels, but Lexen believes that these would not work well on uneven terrain.
"This design should be suitable for outdoor rover applications requiring high maneuverability, robustness, reliability, and resistance to getting stuck or trapped," Lexen told Gizmag. "It has an absolute minimum of moving parts, no suspension, no mechanisms; is it less complex, by roughly an order of magnitude, than any other outdoor rover chassis design, not to mention any outdoor holonomic design."
Below is a video that Tim posted for us, which shows his device in action:
Via New Scientist.
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