Shape-Shifting Wheel Rolls Over Any Terrain

By: | November 21st, 2013

Traveling across different countries in Africa has many obstacles, namely the lack of infrastructure in remote areas where vehicles can’t cross the terrain. It’s with the context of Nkhata-Bay in Malawi in mind that engineering student Ackeem Ngwenya has devised the Roadless, a shape-shifting wheel that can adapt to different surfaces.

Ackeem was anxious to bring his design to a wider audience while also raising money to pay for his tuition so he could graduate. His IndieGoGo campaign, unfortunately, failed in reaching its goal.

But Ackeem’s work may not be in vain. He’s supported by the James Dyson Foundation so the project may not yet be at death’s door.

The Roadless works off the principles of a scissor jack mechanism. As the hub is cranked down it creates a wider wheel when necessary or can contract to a slimmer model; all depending on the terrain you are trying to cross. The wheels can be fitted onto an axle for transportation.

In muddy and soft ground, the wider wheel is used and for a hard, bumpy and rocky surface, the thinner set is applicable. This doesn’t limit the user to just two settings, though, as the Roadless can be adjusted a middle size and width too.

About 85% of the Malawi population lives in rural areas and Ackeem grew up in one of these areas, bearing witness to the transportation issues and the hardships it brought in moving goods. Nearly the entire country lives off farming and once they have harvested enough food to feed their families, many people look to sell their surplus to make a living. However, the marketplaces are often far out of the way and transporting the goods is arduous. This is what Roadless aims to solve as, realistically speaking, infrastructural investment in countries like Malawi is not on the horizon.

“I grew up in Mlore, a remote village in Malawi, an area with no transport infrastructure or service,” says Ackeem. “It was and still is not unusual for people to head-load goods in excess of 25kg for more than 10km. In fact, this is the load and journey my cousins and I took to mill corn when I was about 10.

“With Roadless I can do something about these conditions and contribute towards its development.”

He has developed a number of prototypes so far and tested his designs with a tire as well to examine its feasibility in moving between sizes. The project was just over £5,000 funded, with a goal of £25,000 but sadly did not make its goal in time. You can still view the IndieGoGo campaign where Ackeem has posted a number of sketches and videos of his work.

Jonathan Keane

Irish journalist writing on business, tech and engineering.


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