NASA Glenn researchers have developed a spoked drive mechanism for robots and other vehicles that is capable of two rotational modes. This robust ground traction (drive) assembly for remotely controlled vehicles operates smoothly not only on surfaces that are flat, but also upon surfaces that include rugged terrain, snow, mud, and sand. The assembly includes a sun gear and a braking gear. The sun gear is configured to cause rotational force to be applied to second planetary gears through a coupling of first planetary gears. The braking gear is configured to cause the assembly (or the second planetary gears) to rotate around the braking gear when an obstacle or braking force is applied.
The multi-spoked drive mechanism is capable of two rotational modes. The first mode allows for smooth operation on even surfaces. The second mode allows the assembly to automatically rotate its entire spoked structure and attempt to climb an obstacle when encountered. If the terrain is loose and traction poor, a mechanism is engaged that forces the wheels to rotate about the central assembly. This secondary mechanism may either be engaged passively, through operator command, or may be autonomously actuated using feedback from the assembly indicating slippage or approaching stall as a cue.
The innovative wheel assembly can be applied to robots for use by first respond ers and others as a single ground-traction mechanism in a variety of environments including level ground, mud, snow, sand, and changes in elevation. This is an early-stage technology requiring additional development. Glenn welcomes co-development opportunities. This technology could be used in applications for first responders, oil and gas exploration, environmental monitoring/cleanup, search and rescue, and inspection systems.