Sbarro Autonomous Motor Unit, 2003


Franco Sbarro reinvents the wheel for a second time


Some years ago, Franco Sbarro produced the Roue Orbitale: a very clever hubless wheel whose patents he subsequently sold. At the 2003 Geneva Motor Show this well-known Swiss inventor has reinvented the wheel for a second time, producing a self-propelled one which is called the Roue Autonome Motrice.


The concept is simple: wheels sizes have been increasing for the last few years so why not use the space within the rim to install an engine and thus liberate the space that was previously required by the engine compartment. Transforming an idea into its concrete form is something else! Franco Sbarro and wheel manufacturer OZ have worked together on this concept and produced this prototype of the Autonomous Motor Unit. I cannot tell you anything about the details of this invention because I do not know them. Those of you who are curious may glean what information you can from the photo below of the wheel that is opened revealing the Yamaha engine.


To illustrate a number of possible applications of this invention, three vehicles were shown at Geneva with two, three and four wheels:


The two-wheeled prototype (UMA1) created the biggest impression with the visitors: Spartan comfort with a riding position that doesn’t look very comfortable and a huge back wheel that cannot be very practical when cornering. But these really aren’t faults because this is after all a concept vehicle and not something for daily use. Note the two little outrigger wheels that keep the machine upright when it comes to a standstill. Also the hub-centre steering has only a single arm on the left side. There is a protective bubble over the rider and the exhaust comes out of the wheel! The feeling of speed sitting 15 cm above the ground must be amazing as soon as one goes above 20 mph!


The tricycle (UMA2) reminds me of General Motors concept cars from the fifties: looking like a rocket on wheels with wings and lights shaped like jet engines. This science-fiction machine is powered similarly to the motorcycle.


Finally, the four-wheeled machine (UMA3) really allows one to see the space-saving achieved with the Sbarro wheel. The passenger compartment is freed from the restriction of an engine bay: this extra space can be used for example for luggage. The impression of space is enhanced by the lack of doors on the prototype.


Franco Sbarro’s Autonomous Motor Unit allows designers to conceive of the passenger compartment completely differently. This type of new car architecture has already begun in the large car manufacturers with the advent of drive-by-wire and the freedom of construction this gives. Sbarro’s prototypes however use mechanical controls. In the not too distant future we will see some new forms of vehicle. These three prototypes sow the seeds of that future.


text Philippe Calvet, translation Justin Bouverie




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