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Researchers Developing “Smart” Wheel System for Hybrids and EVs

Scientists at the University of Portsmouth (UK) are developing a novel real-time software-based control and diagnostics system using new artificial intelligence algorithms which, in combination with an in-wheel motor, will provide a new drive and control mechanism for hybrid and electric vehicles.

The “smart” wheel is being developed under a £200K (US$394,000) Department of Trade and Industry-funded Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) project with electronic motor specialist PML Flightlink.

PML Flightlink and its partner Synergy Innovations last year unveiled an in-wheel, plug-in series hybrid conversion of a MINI at the British Motor Show, the MINI QED. The QED currently uses four 750 Nm brushless permanent motors in its wheels, a 21 kWh lithium-polymer battery pack and a 250cc two-cylinder, four-stroke engine as the genset. The car serves as a testbed and technology demonstrator. (Earlier post.)

The University of Portsmouth scientists are providing the artificial intelligence systems for the wheels on the car. The wheels use the AI system to learn as the car is being driven, making calculations and adjustments according to travelling speed and road conditions.

Conventional wisdom says you can’t reinvent the wheel. We have done just that. We have taken the wheel, given it brains and the ability to think and learn. It’s a huge breakthrough.

—David Brown of the University of Portsmouth’s Institute of Industrial Research

The AI system controls the suspension, steering and braking systems, adapting to bends in the road, potholes and other potential hazards, and compensating by adjusting the car’s reactions. The information is retained in memory and used the next time the car encounters similar road conditions. The car is learning as it drives and adapting its performance accordingly.

Traditional suspension means the vehicle dips when the wheels detect poor road surfaces and you get a bumpy ride, while a tight corner means the drag will slow the vehicle down. Electronic traction control and suspension will counterbalance this kind of drop and drag effect but the driver won’t even know it’s there. It means a faster car but a safer one.

—David Brown


  • “An Improved Active Suspension Model for Attitute Control of Electric Vehicles” (Accepted paper); Cao, J., Liu, H., Li, P., Brown, D.J. and Dimirovski, G.;  IEEE Internationnal Conference on Mechatronics and Automation (IEEE-ICMA), August 3-5, 2007, Harbin, PR China



I'll be interested to see if this system can more than compensate for the "unsprung weight" handling problems. I love the simplicity of wheel motors (not to mention how much room it saves inside the car.


Neil - At some point in the recent past we discussed - at length - the potential problem of "unsprung weight".

The consensus that developed is that it was not as much of a problem as many thought.

Siemens VDO has developed an in-wheel system that includes the suspension. If they combined it with this control approach, it's likely we would have a vast improvement in over the road vehicles.


I remember that discussion, that's why I'm very interested to see what the results of this project is. As I remember it, part of our discussion surrounded the use of intelligent all wheel control to offset any handling problems that might be encountered. I think this has great potential help produce an all wheel drive with incredible handling characteristics. I worry a little about the fact that this system will incorporate a learning system. I would hope that this part of the system does not have the potential to take the entire system too far from its base parameters with unpredictable results.


With wheels able to be completely independent just think of all the funky configurations you could come up with. All terrain vehicles could become very interesting (no drive shaft or axle required) All wheel steering becomes easier. Parallel parking becomes a thing of the past if the wheels can rotate 90% (or more)


Neil, nearly all modern vehicles have "intelligent learning" algorithms for auto transmissions and engine control. Ultra luxury vehicles with fully electronic suspension already does the same thing as well (using pre-learned parameters of road variation to prepare the suspension ahead of time for the varying road conditions).


The Lightning powered by Nanosafe(Altairnano)
hit UK.

Harvey D.

Neil: 4WD + 4WS with 4 in wheel electric motors/generators seems to be the ideal solution for future electricity dominant vehicles.

When will such vehicles be on the road?

Who will do it first? .... Mitsubishi? Toyota? Europeans and Americans?


Thanks for the heads up on the Lightning ... nice car. I haven't seen a price tag anywhere ... but if I have to ask ...

John Ard

I wonder if the system could use GPS and stored maps to remember which roads were bad or which areas should be rough this time of year, etc. I'd give good money for a Jeep Wrangler-esque vehicle with these motors and a small genset. But I'm just a consumer, what do I know? :)

Sigvard Zetterström

I would like to see how the steering/wheel alignment and suspension systems are designed for the "Smart Wheel". Obviously there are actuators that have the capability to control the wheel relative to the vehicle body.


Imagine combining this with a hydraulic or air ride suspension system. There'd be nothing that could stop you as long as there's enough power to move all the weight!

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