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4WD Permoveh wheelchair turns on a dime

This wheelchair from Kyoto University has rollers within its wheels, allowing it to move sideways and diagonally.

Reinventing the wheel: Masaharu Komori demos the Permoveh, a wheelchair with omnidirectional wheels.
Video screenshot by Tim Hornyak/CNET

Japanese researchers led by Masaharu Komori, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Kyoto University, recently demoed the Permoveh, or Personal Mobility Vehicle, as a prototype next-generation wheelchair.

The Permoveh has four wheels of the same size, and each wheel contains 32 rollers that can rotate in a perpendicular direction to the rim. As the vid below shows, the vehicle can move in any direction when the user operates a hand-held control.

When the user wants to travel forward or back, the wheels alone move; when going sideways, the rollers move. When traveling diagonally, both wheels and rollers move.

The technology is designed to allow wheelchair users to navigate through tighter spaces more easily.

Right now the top speed of the Permoveh is just 3.7 mph. The prototype also cost some 3 million yen ($36,300) to produce.

Komori and associates are aiming to make it lighter and more compact, while bringing the cost down by two-thirds. That would still make it a very expensive wheelchair but the team wants to commercialize it in three to five years.

The Permoveh wheel technology could also be adapted for use in conveyor equipment in factories and warehouses, according to the university.