Energy & Sustainability Robotics

We get the pleasure of working with some amazing artists/illustrators here at MAKE. One of them is James Provost. James did the illos for the “Lunchbox Laser” and “Marble Adder” projects in Volume 20, and the “CNC For Under $800” piece in Volume 21. He also did the wonderful illustrated version of the Maker’s Bill of Rights.

Here’s a video James did to show how Mechanum wheels work. On his blog (which is a fun read, BTW), he describes his inspiration:

While [MythBusters] one day, I noticed something weird about their forklift — it moved sideways. It didn’t just turn on a dime, but actually moved perpendicular to the direction of the wheels. Upon closer inspection, they looked more like worm gears than wheels. The answer was just a Google away: The MythBusters’ forklift is equipped with Mecanum Wheels, also known as Omni Wheels or Ilon Wheels. These wheels work by rotating independently, depending on the desired direction of travel.

I had an idea that this might make for an interesting motion graphic (above), since still images really don’t do this technology justice. So I tried it out (what’s the worst that can happen?)

Nice work, James!

James Provost Illustration

28 thoughts on “How do Mecanum wheels work?

    1. Don’t know about you, but 0:17 – 0:24 seemed to work pretty well for me. I mean, they’re wheels, they turn. The trick is the 45* rollers allow side-to-side movement, and that section of the video shows what combinations of wheel rotations will result in movement of the forklift in certain directions.

      1. sorry, you are right.

        There was too much focus on the top left image of the wheel, which is not required for the explanation.

  1. The commercial forklifts using mecanum wheels (sometimes also called Swedish wheels) are called AirTrax:

    http://www.airtrax.com/

    These wheels are frequently used on robots due to their non-holonomic nature (ie. they can move sideways):

    http://www.hizook.com/blog/2009/08/20/omnirob-kuka-robotics-foray-omnidirectional-mobile-manipulation-platforms

    http://www.hizook.com/blog/2010/03/15/cody-new-humanoid-mobile-manipulating-robot-georgia-techs-healthcare-robotics-lab

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Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. And he has a new best-of writing collection and “lazy man’s memoir,” called Borg Like Me.

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