From wheelchairs to trolleys: researchers devise “thinking wheels”

From wheelchairs to trolleys: researchers devise “thinking wheels”

Technology News |
By Christoph Hammerschmidt

The technology, developed by a team of researchers from Saarland University, can be used wherever support is required for pulling, pushing or driving, i.e. from walkers and wheelchairs to wheelbarrows and shopping trolleys. The data generated in the wheels of the motors during turning alone can be used to control them; no additional sensors are required.

The system knows how the wheels are positioned and the force with which the drives run without sensors, based solely on the data generated by small electric motors inside the wheels as they rotate. “We are turning the engine itself into a sensor and thus are developing a new sensor category. It is a cost-effective yet powerful process,” explains Professor Matthias Nienhaus, from Saarland University. “The evaluation of engine data in an embedded controller not only optimizes the drive but also monitors the engine for signs of wear. The researchers read how the electromagnetic field is distributed at certain points inside the engine and how this field changes during operation. They have developed and applied for patents on innovative processes that make the data from the motor even more meaningful and eliminate interference effects such as noise.

Integrated in wheels, the technology enables any number of wheels to be controlled individually and thus any number of wheels to work together. This is done automatically via a microcontroller, in which the electronics use the data from the individual electric motors of the wheels to calculate whether and which of the motors should switch on when and with what power.

To this end, the research team has determined which engine condition is related to which measured values and which measured value changes how when the wheel is turned. The more data about the wheel motor is known, the more efficiently it can be controlled. The technique identifies from the data mass the signal patterns that are meaningful or occur during certain changes. The researchers developed mathematical models for the various states of the engine. If the signals change, the system controller can assign this and then react without delay with appropriately programmed commands. Connected via a data bus system, several wheels work together with the sensitized motors.

The Saarbrücken researchers are now looking for partners to industrialise their development. They will demonstrate their technology from 23 to 27 April at the Hanover Fair at the Saarland research stand (Hall 2, Stand B 46).

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