How do Mecanum wheels work?

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

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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. His free weekly-ish maker tips newsletter can be found at garstipsandtools.com.

View more articles by Gareth Branwyn

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