Most forklifts, and vehicles in general, are not the easiest things in the world to maneuver. This is because the wheels only roll forwards and backwards -- there's no lateral movement. So if your goal is to move somewhere off to your right or left -- say to that better parking space a few slots down that just opened up -- and you want to end up pointed in the same direction when you get there, you need to turn, go either forward or backward, and turn again. In a car, this isn't that big of a deal, but when it comes to vehicles like forklifts, it can be another story.
Forklifts often carry large, bulky and very heavy objects that can be difficult to load and challenging to maneuver (especially through doorways and other narrow places). All that turning and maneuvering at safe, but very slow speeds can also suck up a great deal of time. And that's what makes this last tool so cool -- its wheels are designed to let it travel in any and every direction.
The special wheel design was invented by Bengt Ilon of Sweden in the 1970s. It works because its wheels are comprised of a circular set of rollers arranged at angles along the wheel. This, in effect, gives the wheels something similar to the functional shape of a sphere (like the ball bearings in rolling chairs) and vastly increases the range of motion available. Want to go sideways? How about diagonally backward with a twist at the end? Whatever you want, any direction of motion is now possible.
These fancy wheels have started appearing on different commercial products, including the Airtrax Sidewinder ATX-3000. This forklift is operated with two joysticks and can rotate in a full circle while remaining in one place -- no donuts here. It can also drive over anything up to 3 inches high. A big advantage of the Sidewinder is that a warehouse could be filled with more items because less room needs to be devoted to driving maneuvers, all of which can also be accomplished more rapidly.
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