At the recently concluded Innovation Japan 2011, a group of researchers from the robot–obsessed, ever–innovative Osaka University in Japan presented the Omni-Ball, a ball-shaped wheel that can move in all directions. They then used the Omni-Ball to create the Omni-Crawler, a small vehicle that – yep, you catch on quick – easily move in all directions.
We can look at the Omni-Ball as an improved version of the swivel caster (the wheels that are usually attached to the bottom of shopping carts and office chairs). Compared to casters, which have multiple parts, the Omni-Ball is much simpler. It’s made up of two matching hemispheres attached to either side of an axle. The hemispheres can move independently or together as a sphere. Attach the Omni-Ball to a vehicle and you get the Omni-Crawler. Attach it to a gripper and you get the Omni-Gripper. Dip it in gel and… nah I don’t think that’ll work. Watch the video to learn more about the Omni-thingies:
It reminds me of the treads on this LEGO tank, but the Omni-Ball will probably make for a much smoother ride. As YouTuber TheExWarrior commented, it would be awesome if all cars had Omni-Balls instead of wheels because it’ll make parking much easier. It’ll also make driving – crawling? – a lot more fun.