Half a croissant, on a plate, with a sign in front of it saying '50c'
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Rubik's Cubic Car

Which way do you want to go today?
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I looked up, slightly amazed... There was a car? suspended between the walls of the alley, above me.

I was still gawking at it when a woman's voice beside me said, "Would you like a ride? I parked it up there, because it's free."

She pressed a button on a remote controller and the vehicle scooted down the two walls, shot forward a few metres, to avoid a pair of rubbish bins, and settled gently to the ground in front of us.

It appeared to have wheels on each of the three visible sides, one on each corner of its surface. Well, not wheels, but rounded rubber surfaces, four apparent on each of the six sides of the cubic vehicle and caged somehow into the corners of the vehicle.

"Holonomic wheels, driven by electric motors," she explained.

A panel opened in one of the flat surfaces and the woman stepped inside, settling into one of the two seats, motioning me to the other.

An engine came to life under the seats, and the "door" slid closed. The panels were clear from in here, though they had looked like deep maroon mirrors from the outside.

She pressed four buttons on the touchscreen in front of her, and the "car" began rolling forward, faster as she pressed on the control yoke. Then, something happened! I was aware of the lateral pressure of the seat against my left side, and I realised we had just made a 90 degree turn, without swinging through the normal arc a car might.

All I heard was a series of quick mechanical noises, as the electric drivemotors (balls, wheels... whatever, I was still struggling to grasp those...) changed the direction of application of the "wheels".

The driver explained it thus: The engine drives 24 of these powerful little electric motors, running off a hybrid-fuelled generator that comprises the engine. She explained that the pressure sensors in the control yoke direct a computer to figure out which wheels are best to use, and which two of the three drivemotors in contact with each wheel (think of a giant mouseball) are best to propel the car in the desired direction.

The seating/engine module was apparently mounted in a giant gimbal.

"If it tips over, it just engages the two new wheels now in contact with the ground, while the seating position remains horizontal", she explained.

The wheels can be extended outwards, to increase ground clearance, using some of the suspension travel to allow this.

Apparently, the trick in the alley was possible as all eight wheels were in contact with the walls, simultaneously. The suspension travel trick made "chimneying" possible in narrow spaces.

A continuously variable transmission that could be geared to a final drive ratio from almost 75:1 up to 2:1 made it possible to go almost anywhere.

Four-wheeled, or even six-wheeled cars suddenly seemed so passe.

UnaBubba, Jul 16 2012

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       Not quite sure how Rubik comes in here... seems to be an imaginary cubic car with a gimballed cockpit and antigravity...?
imagin8or, Jul 16 2012
  

       this is just silly. [+]
Voice, Jul 16 2012
  

       I didn't mention antigravity anywhere, [imagin8or].   

       I did mention Rubik's Cube because the design is:
A. Cubic
B. Enjoys the same basic configuration regardless of which side is uppermost.
C. Can be rotated in almost any direction without changing its fitness for purpose.
UnaBubba, Jul 18 2012
  

       Sure, why not. [+]
AusCan531, Jul 19 2012
  

       [+] I like it, though it seems a bit 007-ish!
xandram, Jul 19 2012
  

       //I realised we had just made a 90 degree turn, without swinging through the normal arc a car might//   

       Inertia might want to argue with you about that one.
MechE, Jul 19 2012
  
      
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