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OSU Student Reinvents The Wheel: Robotic 3D printed transforming wheel

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download (1)Carter Hurd has been building robots since he was in middle school. His experience and passion for tinkering with and building out complete electronic devices has only grown, and he is emerging as an obvious talent.

Hurd has won multiple awards over the years for his robots, and also serves as a mentor for FIRST Robotics team 4611. His latest invention, the transforming wheel, is a robot accessory that helps robots navigate different terrain. It is significant, not only in its design, but because it is Hurd’s first 3D printed project.

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Chalk one up for The Ohio State University. College is meant to be an intellectual awakening with exposure to a more expansive world, and Hurd received that in the lab as a sophomore mechanical engineering student.

“When I came to college, the first thing I tried to do was find a lab that I could work in,” Hurd told “Before, I had never seen a 3D printer, but at college basically every lab has their own MakerBot. It has really changed my work process.”

Hurd has experience, knowledge, and inspiration, and he’s open to new processes for putting his concepts into reality — a winning combination for a young inventor. For the transforming wheel, Hurd’s inspiration behind the design is quite apparent in its simple but highly functional shape. While eating an orange, he came up with the idea for the actuation plate.

Previously, dreaming up ideas like this one was the easy part — while making the robots was a rather painstaking process. “As you can see from some of my previous work, most of my robots were made from PVC sheets which I hand cut with a hacksaw.  If I wanted a 3D shape, I would mold it with ShapeLock plastic,” Hurd told “Sometimes I would spend a couple hours making a mold for a part, and then I’d press heated ShapeLock plastic into the mold and let it harden.”

So while the orange inspired the design, in discovering 3D printing, a new world is unfolding to him as well.

“Now that I have access to a 3D printer, I can pretty much make anything I dream up a reality,” said Hurd.

The simple, interlocking design of the wheel is a great example of Hurd’s intuitive understanding not only of the mechanics of the wheel, but also of the mechanics of 3D printing — and how he can fine-tune it for his design.

Hurd employed the MakerBot 2X to 3D Print the Transforming Wheel.

Hurd employed the MakerBot 2X to 3D Print the Transforming Wheel.

“This robot is my first total transition to 3D printing.  Every major part is 3D printed on a MakerBot 2X, with the exception of the racks and pinions used to actuate the wheels, which were laser cut from acrylic,” Hurd told

“All of the components that were printed were printed without supports.  I’ve found it’s just easier to make the part designs not have overhangs than it is to pick off all the supporting material.  I add little triangles to the top of large holes to allow them to be printed cleanly.”

This transforming wheel design, quite simply, keeps robots from getting hung up when they are transferring from inside to outside, and need to move more efficiently, while encountering obstacles. The wheels remain round while the robot is inside, but transform into spikes for outside use, where they can employ GPS for positioning.

“The spikes are also interchangeable for different surfaces.  I’ve already made some that work better on sand, and in the future I’ll probably have metal spiked ones for traveling over ice,” Hurd told “ABS plastic is flexible enough that you can make interference fit parts, so the spikes just have pegs which fit tightly into holes in the wheels.”

spikywheel1Hurd employed Arduino software for his latest creation, with the Arduino board controlling the motors though an Adafruit motor shield, which receives inputs from a Bluetooth module. “I got the Bluetooth module for under ten bucks on eBay,” said Hurd. “It was easy to make an Android app using the MIT App Inventor 2 to send the Bluetooth module signals through my phone.  It works better than an RC remote for testing purposes, and is cheap.”

With the exposure to 3D printing in the college lab, Hurd has decided to purchase his own MOD-t 3D printer. Due to the new technology available to him, Hurd’s power to dream and execute concepts is being accelerated. This is happening to many inventors right now with the new technology available, but Hurd functions as a prime example with his first 3D printed project.

3d printed all terain transfroming wheel 1

It is ideas like Hurd’s, with inspiration created from something as simple as an orange, that have created some of history’s greatest breakthroughs. While this just might be a wheel for a robot, it gives you insight into Hurd’s thoughtful process — and leaves us all waiting to see what he will come up with next with the power of 3D printing behind him.

As Hurd keeps turning dreams into 3D printed reality, we look forward to keeping you posted on his latest inventions. Have you been involved in 3D printing robotics? Are you inspired by Hurd’s design? Give us your thoughts in the 3D Printed Robotic Transforming Wheel forum at

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