Ahh, the wheel. It's been around for millennia and it turns out they got it pretty much spot on first time, with only minor fine-tuning needed afterwards. Still, that doesn't stop people from trying to reinvent the bugger every so often. Soft Creeper is the latest one to give it a go and we're not wholly convinced.
Soft Creeper's concept does away with outmoded concepts like having a continuous rim all the way around the wheel, instead choosing to split it into segments suspended by carbon fibre struts or 'spring modules'. Apparently, the struts are modelled after those used in artificial limbs and are designed to bend upwards under load without distorting sideways.
Attached to the end of each of these spokes is a piece of plastic with a tyre tread then applied on top, with no tubes or air needed. That means that the wheel itself is supposed to stay perfectly round on smooth surfaces but then each segment can move up out of the way when you hit something bumpy. Plus, if a segment is damaged, you can simply remove that one and replace it. Brilliant eh?
That said, the only slight issues we can see are that the pneumatic tyre mounted to a conventional rim does a remarkably good job of absorbing bumps already, while a wheel that radically changes shape when it strikes a bump has traditionally been regarded as a Very Bad Thing - trifling details we're sure you'll agree.
"But," we hear you say, "it's got a Red Dot design award!" That is true - back in 2016, it did win the Red Dot Design Concept award. However, brief further investigation shows that once you've paid a small amount to be considered for such an award, you only need to pay a few hundred more for the privilege of winning, so we suspect it's not quite on a par with a Nobel.
Still, as it's never made it to production, we'll never really know what it'd be like to ride. We have our suspicions that 'lumpy', 'directionally uncertain', 'incredibly heavy' and 'terrifying' might be just some of the words that'd describe it.
Anyway, while we're glad that Soft Creeper's concept remains just that, we shouldn't knock them too hard. Without people like the bold students of Dalian Minzu University, there'd be no smartphones, no internet, no salted caramel ice cream. They are the music makers and they are the dreamers of dreams. Wish them luck, even if we might wait a bit before using their concepts.
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