A company called Orbis has developed a hubless aluminum wheel fitted with an electric motorcycle motor inside. Incredibly, this weighs--and, they improbably claim, costs--about the same as a standard, conventional wheel. Yet it adds 50 horsepower per new wheel and turns your 2WD car into 4WD.
As a proof-of-concept, they retrofitted a Civic Type-R with two of their wheels to create a powerful hybrid. In the video below, they start off driving the car powered only by their Orbis Ring-Wheels, then engage the gasoline engine for some spirited 4WD hybrid power:
Here are the technical claims the company is making, along with an explanation of how it works:
I've already got an AWD vehicle, but if I didn't--and if Orbis' cost claims result in actual deliverables--I'd absolutely be tempted into buying two and connecting them to create a 4x4 hybrid.
There is also this tantalizing possibility, according to the company: "ORBIS Ring-Drive wheels can be added to any vehicle with or without motors." How cool would it be to pick up some derelict junker with a dead motor, and get it going again by adding four new wheels?
The company also states that their Ring-Drive wheels improve handling: "The ORBIS Ring-Drive wheel has the lowest center of gravity of any known wheel design," they write. "The motor mass is just inches off the ground, improving vehicle stability, acceleration, braking and cornering dynamics."
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There is, however, a discrepancy between the second and first videos above. The second video unequivocally depicts the added motors as being integrated within the wheels themselves. However, the Type-R case study states that "To complete this prototype, the rear seats were removed to accommodate two Zero Motorcycle AC electric motors and controllers that turn the rims via a fixed 6.2:1 gear ratio. This equipment adds approximately 180 pounds to the original curb weight of the Civic Type R." If the cost of adding the wheels requires removing the rear seats, then the proposition becomes less attractive.
That being said, Orbis' accomplishment is still technically impressive, and I look forward to seeing where this goes.