Square Wheels and really expensive alternatives to Round Wheels

John McDermott sent me a link to a device called a Cubli – I thought the video cute and then, since it is a “square thing,” how I might play with this a bit. After all, I am all about innovation and implementation, people and performance, and understanding the reality that The Round Wheels are already in the wagon that rolls on Square Wheels

The Cubli looks like this and clicking on the image will take you to a Gizmodo site and an expensive female British voice describing its design, the physics involved and its “behavioral flexibility.”

Cubli

Basically, the little device can sit there like a paperweight or it can balance on a point or on an edge or it can be taught to actually “roll” in a slow and very controlled manner, something they call “jumping and walking.”

Check out the video and then pop back here and I will roll forward with some of my ideas and analogies of how this little device actually DOES link to organizational behavior and people and performance…

The first video shown of the device appears here — like most good ideas, it started out by not being able to do much other than be lifted up to balance and maintain itself on one point. It is connected to a computer system with its network of wheels, motors, controllers and program. That video says that it was designed by a group of students from the Institute for Dynamic Systems and Control at ETH Zurich, a Swiss organization. The second and much more professionally done video shows that even more people were involved and the cube itself went from wired to wireless. The second video also says that it was invented by The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. I am only guessing when I think that the Institute now wants credit! (ALL organizations are political organizations, you know!)

It is described as follows:

Cubli’s secret is a set of flywheels located behind three of its faces. When they’re spinning at high velocities they’re individually controlled to allow the cube to maintain its balance, but they can also be abruptly stopped which causes the cube to be launched into the air. By carefully controlling how the cube stands, falls, and moves, it can even walk its away (sic) across a flat surface, in a manner of speaking. 

The lead researcher then elaborated:

Reaction wheels mounted on three faces of the cube rotate at high angular velocities and then brake suddenly, causing the Cubli to jump up. Once the Cubli has almost reached the corner stand up position, controlled motor torques are applied to make it balance on its corner. In addition to balancing, the motor torques can also be used to achieve a controlled fall such that the Cubli can be commanded to fall in any arbitrary direction. Combining these three abilities — jumping up, balancing, and controlled falling — the Cubli is able to ‘walk’.

And the narrative includes the point that, “Rapid breaking of the spinning wheel allows it to transfer its angular momentum and flip up onto an edge.”

Okay. So here we have a almost a dozen people at a Swiss research institute using government funding to develop a cube that can basically balance itself on an edge or point or rotate on a point. The Cubli is “commanded” to move.

So, my deviant brain spins off into a few new directions after viewing the videos…

They use round “inertia reaction wheels” and they missed the opportunity to use SQUARE wheels for that purpose, since they would have worked great and also made it a bit more elegant and congruent. A cube with Square Wheels.

Like a lot of projects, this Cubli one took a lot of creative energy of a lot of people to implement a solution that no one apparently needs. And I wonder the actual cost of all this… I mean, even the video’s reference that it makes for a really interesting paperweight (and one that might work really well in windy conditions or in an earthquake!).

A toy gyroscope can do much of the same kind of work. Like Round Wheels already in the wagon, those already exist and are proven to work just fine. You can also get that to spin around an axis in a circle and you can get one in a zillion places for less than $10. They make neat hands-on and engaging science gifts.

gyroscope

And, for $49, National Geographic will sell you a magnetic levitating globe that hangs in the air and spins freely:

levitating globe

A yo-yo also has many of the same behavioral characteristics and is a lot more fun to play with and a lot less costly. You can watch some amazing yo yo tricks here — but remember that the yo yo is spinning all the time! And when they play with multiple yo yos on one string, that seems really amazing to me…But people can do amazing things with the tools that they have.

My point in all this? We can spend a lot of time and energy focused on things that have no real benefit, or we can use the things that we already have to make things more fun and interesting. And the kinds of skills that people can develop are really amazing — some of those yo yo performers are absolutely incredible and you would never know from looking at them what they can actually accomplish. A yo yo in each hand, doing tricks that amaze.

This 3-minute video at the 2005 yo yo championship has had over 4 million views. Three minutes of amazing tricks with a spinning toy and people developing the intrinsic motivation to take their skills to an unreal and unimaginable level. Why can’t we do this more often in the workplace?

Suzuki yo yo

Its about people and performance, people.
And the Round Wheels and motivation are already in the wagon!

Elegant Solutions

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.

Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest: pinterest.com/scottsimmerman/
Scott’s blog on Poems and Quips on Workplace Improvement is here.

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