Link - article by M. Christian and Avi Abrams

Twist-n-Ride: Moving In Mysterious Ways (Even Sideways)

Ever since Mr. Bronze Age had the inspired thought that led to the wheel, humans have been trying to think of new ways to get from point A to point B. First British inventor Richard Lovell Edgeworth came up with the continuous track method of locomotion (which is just another way of saying "tracks on every tank and tractor", if you don't recognize the term).

("Snowbird 6" - Steve Brooks and his Ice Challenger team used a vehicle with screw-drive technology to be the first to cross the Bering Strait in 2001)

But in 1868 the American inventor Jacob Morath had a truly inspired idea: a screw-propelled vehicle. Don’t recognize that term either? That's not surprising because, even though many people today will celebrate its virtues, it's not exactly a common sight.

The basic idea of a screw-propelled vehicle is simple enough: instead of wheels or tracks, you build a vehicle with a pair of, as Wikipedia puts it "auger-like cylinders fitted with a helical flange." To make that a bit easier to understand, think of a machine that literally crawls along the ground on a pair of giant screws. To turn you use the same method a tank does: one screw either gets locked in place while the other one doesn't or, to make a 360 turn, turn one screw one way and the other ... well, the other way.

(images via)

(Not so) lumbering machines

In 1907, James and Ira Peavey, were quite literally driven to create a practical screw-propelled machine to help their lumbering in Maine. The machine proved very useful since the screw-propulsion could move whatever you wanted moved through snow and mud and all kinds of nasty conditions. You also didn't need to worry about anything getting caught in the tracks, like with a caterpillar, and since they had much fewer moving parts they were easier to maintain.

Here's a 1929 version of a screw-drive tractor - Fordson Snow Machine concept (also watch video):

(images via)

This "tractor" could tow twelve (!) tonnes of lumber behind it. Also check out the Chevrolet full-size screw-propelled snowmobile (see image below right):

Quite a few screw machines were built afterwards, though they remained less than popular. But when World War Two loomed, the idea of a screw-propelled war machine intrigued the eccentric genius Geoffrey Pyke -- who you no doubt remember as the inventor of the iceberg aircraft carrier.

Alas, Pyke's concept of a very small, very fast, attack machine got (ahem) shot down and his idea was eventually whittled down to the very-rarely known Weasel. Unfortunately, the Weasel was whittled down even more and the screw propulsion was dropped in favor of standard caterpillar tracks.

(image via)

Left image image: a prototype of the Weasel (with screws)... which (alas) became the vehicle on the right, when the military was done with it.

Screw your way across the landscape

Some Russian WW2 screw-driven prototypes ended up in Nazi hand. No doubt, they were duly surprised to see this:

After the war the development continued, leading to a few working prototypes for Soviet Army:

("The Blue Bird", see more info and pics below)

Screws vs. Caterpillars

Another benefit screws have over caterpillars is the possibility of being amphibious. There's no reason, for instance, that the screws couldn't be hollow and so could also act as floats. During the Vietnam war, for example, Chrysler experimented with a screw-propelled machine. Unfortunately, their take on the technology didn't exactly wow the US military and the project was dropped.

(images via 1, 2)

Here are some fascinating marriages of screws with snowmobiles:

(images via 1, 2)

The Soviets, in the meantime, had a machine specifically designed to go where no man ever wanted to go -- in their case to retrieve cosmonauts from remote landing sites: the poetically named ZIL-2906, or "Cosmonauts' Blue Bird":

(images via)

The last working prototypes are sadly abandoned today, and perhaps this whole line of development is currently in decline:

(images credit: Sergei Sklyarov)

Also watch the incredible video of screw propulsion in action - click here.

Crawl Sideways!

One of the most amazing uses of screw propulsion has to be Joseph Jean de Bakker's. In the 1960s the Dutch inventor created the Amphirol, a machine designed to take anyone pretty much anywhere. What made Joseph Jean de Bakker machine better than other versions of "screwing yourself across the landscape" was its performance.

Not only could his Amphirol go across marshes and over other sticky situations but it was also amphibious. That wasn't the end of its wow factor, though, because the Amphirol could do all that and also crawl sideways. Try doing that with four wheels or with caterpillar tracks - see Amhirol in action here.

(image via)

Here is a miniature version "Automaster 61" - quite capable of doing various tasks around a Siberian farm:

(image via)

... and a DIY version (Tehinfo site even provides blueprints for the aspiring makers):

(image credit: Tehinfo)

Screw-drive into the future!

Here is a cool futuristic concept by the Russian designer Den-Z:

(image credit: Den-Z)

Tyco Terrain Twister is a screw-driven vehicle toy which does a pretty good job ripping up terrain, considering its size (see the video here):

Russian engineer Alexey Burdin is promoting his TESH-drive version at his site. Here is one of many exciting renderings for the drive's usage, and the first prototypes are awaiting government funding:

(image via)

One negative aspect to using such machinery is the possible impact on environment (witness its thick, wide tracks - quite a sizable "footprint"):

While still rare, the idea of screw-propulsion is still out there: the concept appearing in all kinds of civilian and military proposals. While watching one in action, though, William Cowper's quote comes immediately to mind: it "moves in a mysterious way."

BONUS: this is yet another unusual locomotion concept - for which we'd like to get more details, if you have any:

(original unknown)




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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not sure if you've covered this previously. Seems like a similar concept: the sidewinder


Blogger Taiki said...

What about the Shagohod? You're showing off fictional accounts of screw driven vehicles, this one counts.


Blogger Nick said...

Saw one similar to this in Alaska a few years ago. Obviously abandoned, but appeared to be a tundra/snow vehicle. http://www.flickr.com/photos/thebonzey/3721297580/in/set-72157621327751455/

Anonymous Anna said...

This is a great idea and would eliminate some of the tires in the landfills.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why was this idea abandoned? The Fordson vehicle looked very capable. The only disadvantage I see is that it can't go on a paved road without causing damage. But many catepillar drive vehicles have the same problem

Anonymous Rouget said...

Considering the amount of mud this thing is removing, I would use it as bulldozer, but as a clever way to move around on any soil even if you can go practically anywhere. The energy consumption must be pretty high, which is surely why we still need to build flat roads and build bridges... Hum maybe a road and bridge companies conspiracy ? Good Lord.

Friction-free and all ground capable vehicules are the Holy Graal.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

the chimera tank in fallout 3 is like this http://fallout.wikia.com/wiki/Chimera

theyr cool but not all that practical. good for really soft and nasty terrain but they tear up the land and i'm not sure if they can really run on asphalt or rock that well.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Side ways? They looks pretty decent at going forward.

Anonymous Weaver said...

The mystery vehicle with barrel-tired tracks at the bottom lookslike a Russian equivalent of the Borg-Warner Air Roll and XM759 expeimental vehicles developed in America in the 1960s. More details here: http://www.amphibiousvehicle.net/frame.html (under "Bg to" about halfway down)

Anonymous Anonymous said...

A good video of the Fordson in action can be found here. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zBjlSJf4274

Blogger Stickmaker said...

While the screw-propelled vehicles have definite advantages over tracked equivalents in thick, soupy mud, marshes and swamps, on ground they are much less efficient. They waste a lot of energy displacing soil, and skin friction of those rotating metal pontoons uses a lot more.

They still have a definite niche, and I'm surprised they aren't used for it.

Blogger Avi Abrams said...

Thank you all for comments - wonderful info! will go into part 2

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The picture of the vehicle with several tires on a track is apparently a Soviet built version of the "Airoll" detailed here:

Blogger whitebear said...


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