David Patrick was toying with some modular tubes when he started to suspect that wheels, in their perfectly cylindrical iterations, may not be as optimized as it seems. That’s because the object he had in his hand, which he described as a helix cube-like shape, appeared to roll remarkably fast whenever he dropped it on the ground.
Patrick, a software engineer who happens to be an avid skateboarder, would later go on to turn his discovery into a replacement wheel for skateboards that he claims spins “faster than the traditional wheel,” which he attributes to its sine wave pattern. A wheel that rolls in an undulating manner, he explains, reduces the amount of surface area that comes in contact with the ground. And less surface contact equals less friction. At the same time, it’s still wide enough to establish a good grip.
Patricks’s pitch sounded quite convincing. A Kickstarter campaign to bring his “Shark Wheel” to the masses ended successfully on July 2013, to the tune of $80,000.
A blogger at Physics Central, however, found some of the product’s claims to be rather dubious. In a post titled “Reinventing the wheel,” the writer disputed the notion that the Shark Wheel’s reduced contact area contributes to increases in speed since that aspect depends “almost solely on the quality of the bearing within that wheel.” The writer also added that the wheels needed to undergo independent testing to validate some of the Shark Wheel’s main selling points.
Whether the claims hold up in the long run is anyone’s guess. A preliminary test by Longboard Technology determined that while the product performed fine, it would take some time to know whether the design conferred any actual benefits over traditional wheels.
At the very least, the Shark Wheel, in all its squiggly glory, has shown that even the most timeless ideas may not be as infallible as they seem. Here are a few others that have shown that, despite the old adage, wheels, like anything else, can be evolved.
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