Automotive

Hyundai and Kia's radical Uni Wheel system could revolutionize EV design

Hyundai and Kia's radical Uni Wheel system could revolutionize EV design
A conventional EV drivetrain (left) as compared to a Uni Wheel setup (right)
A conventional EV drivetrain (left) as compared to a Uni Wheel setup (right)
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These sequential images show how the linkage allows for continuous power transmission even as the wheel moves up and down
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These sequential images show how the linkage allows for continuous power transmission even as the wheel moves up and down
A close look at one of the Uni Wheel modules, which engages an outer ring gear
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A close look at one of the Uni Wheel modules, which engages an outer ring gear
The sun gear (center, with shaft) and the linkage-connected pinion gears
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The sun gear (center, with shaft) and the linkage-connected pinion gears
A conventional EV drivetrain (left) as compared to a Uni Wheel setup (right)
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A conventional EV drivetrain (left) as compared to a Uni Wheel setup (right)
View gallery - 4 images

As is the case with their gas-burning counterparts, electric cars are limited in spaciousness and design by the layout of their drivetrain. The Hyundai Motor Company and Kia Corporation have set about addressing that issue, with their radical new Universal Wheel Drive System.

In internal combustion engine cars, the engine takes up a lot of space, as do the transmission and drive shafts which transfer power from the engine to the wheels. In an electric car, the engine is replaced by a motor, but the vehicle's design still has to allow for a means of linking that one motor to at least two of the wheels.

That's where the Universal Wheel Drive System – aka Uni Wheel – comes in.

Unveiled Nov. 29th at a media event in Seoul, the setup swaps one big motor for four smaller ones. Each of those motors is located right beside one of the vehicle's wheels, and is connected to it via a short drive shaft.

Occupying what would otherwise be empty space inside each wheel hub is a reduction gear. It consists of a central "sun gear" that is turned by the drive shaft, and which is connected via articulated linkages to four outlying pinion gears. Those pinions are in turn meshed with a single large "ring gear" that runs around the circumference of the hub.

A close look at one of the Uni Wheel modules, which engages an outer ring gear
A close look at one of the Uni Wheel modules, which engages an outer ring gear

So, on each Uni Wheel unit … the motor turns the driveshaft, which turns the sun gear, which turns the pinion gears, which turn the ring gear, which turns the wheel. If that sounds confusing, watching the explanation in the video at the end of this article will help.

Additionally, thanks to the pivot points in the linkages (which allow them to flex as the gears are turning), power transmission from each motor to each wheel stays efficient and consistent even as the wheel moves up and down while going over bumps in the road. By contrast, when the wheels on a traditional drivetrain move vertically, power transmission efficiency decreases as the angle of drive shaft deflection increases.

These sequential images show how the linkage allows for continuous power transmission even as the wheel moves up and down
These sequential images show how the linkage allows for continuous power transmission even as the wheel moves up and down

Other claimed advantages of the Uni Wheel system include increased durability and torque, along with the ability to independently control torque at each wheel for better handling. And as mentioned earlier, there's also the fact that by moving most of the drivetrain into the wheels, additional space becomes available inside the vehicle.

That space could be used for more seating, more cargo capacity, or for reconfigurable interiors – the fact that the floor could be completely flat would certainly help in that regard. The extra space could also be used for more batteries, thus expanding the range of EVs without making them physically larger.

Hyundai and Kia now plan on improving Uni Wheel's reduction gear ratio, and upgrading its lubrication and cooling systems. There's currently no word on when it might actually enter production.

"We are pleased to showcase innovative ideas that could become game changers in the future mobility market," said Jongsool Park, Senior Fellow at the Institute of Advanced Technology Development of Hyundai Motor Group. "We will perfect the technology so that customers can experience mobility in a completely different and new way."

And as an interesting side note, Hyundai previously developed an e-Control Module system in which four separate all-in-one wheel units are able to independently pivot, allowing for 90-degree turning. A team at Canada's University of Waterloo is working on a similar system.

The world's first drive system concept | Universal Wheel Drive System

Source: Hyundai

View gallery - 4 images
21 comments
21 comments
Smokey_Bear
interesting idea. but I still think hub motors are the way to go. I believe Aptera will be the first company to offer this tech on a mass produced vehicle. I know many think a motor having no suspension to absorb impacts would break quickly, but I believe you can design the motor to be more hardy.
Tony
Two words....unsprung weight. Going to have to make it light as possible. Maybe integrate it into the wheel rim for added stiffness and weight reduction. Move brake discs into the middle of the car. Interesting idea.
Kaytown
I'm surprised there's no reference to Ree Motors... Isn't this feature one of the main avenues pursued by Ree?
Chase
Instead of packing more batteries, I'd rather they remove batteries in the footwells so that they can produce sedans again. The skateboard layout means you're either sitting like an F1 driver in a sedan or sitting in a sedan on top of a skateboard and calling it a crossover.
Bob Stuart
It is unfortunate that lightweight wheels are sold for appearance and performance, when they also have big benefits for ride quality. If the dramatic difference were better known, fewer people would come up with these heavy wheels.
Jezzafool
Actually a very good video, I thought. Predictably, the keyboard engineers below are much smarter and finding fault.........
Laszlo
Love the way age-old "trolleybus science" is emerging in the super-new EV technology! A gold mine of electro-mechanical solutions. E.g. hub-motors have been present since the 1970s. (Maybe even earlier.) No irony on my part - this is positive! Want to confirm Tony's message: unsprung weight remains an issue. One solution is to increase gear reduction ratio "infinitely" (that will reduce weight), but here problems will arise with free rolling. Minimal friction moment of the motors will be increased infinitely as well as channeled to the wheels. Which is of course not a solution. Another option is not to have gears at all: certain types of electric motors are capable to work efficiently in extremely wide RPM-range. So they are candidates for a direct drive solution. They have weight, of course. But are also excellent for energy recuperation when the driver is applying the brakes. They can reload batteries. Exciting - good luck!
fen
evolutionary, rather than revolutionary. Sure weight is an issue, but removing the brakes etc, using a light alloy wheel, adding in the gears etc, it cant weigh much more than an old steel wheel setup, or old steel wheel.

In my country we have a yearly car test, and there are several points of regular failure removed from the setup with this. However will the test center want to look inside these wheels periodically to see if they are fit for the road? I dunno, maybe?
1stClassOPP
I think having 10 - 20 X4 independent gears in a compartment are extremely complicated, sort of like a watch movement. What energy is lost in colder weather, as I assume they will be bathed in a lubricant of some kind.
itsKeef
Do i see fore and aft movement of the wheel assembly ? Independent fore aft movement will produce unpredictable changes in the wheelbase.
Controlled vertical movement is important in order not to change the track width under brisk cornering. That's what the unequal radius arms go along way to achieve.
Also...I dont think these guys fully understand what such an increase in unsprung weight will do to the wheel assembly. Hub motor/gears are fine for fork lifts .
on the subject of interesting sus' check out the DeDion sliding tube with watts linkage for the rear geometry first seen on the Rover P6..also includes inboard disc brakes. For lower un sprung weight? you cannot change the laws of physics, but you can go a long way to lessen the effect.
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