Winter is coming, which means many Americans will soon bust out their snow tires, grumble about road salt, and get through another cold season. There are various ways for a vehicle to safely traverse slippery surfaces and if you live in an area that gets cold like I do, you probably already have a plan for winter driving. You know your snow tires work, but have you ever witnessed them getting work done? Let’s take a look at traction doing some heavy lifting, and watch it on a small scale with Lego vehicles!
Today’s Autopian Drive-In takes us back to the YouTube channel Brick Technology. We’ve featured this channel a couple of times before in the past and we enjoy what the channel does. Brick Technology takes technical concepts and scales them down to Lego size, or specifically, Lego’s smart Technic line, which adds some engineering aspects to the art of building something out of sole-killing plastic bricks. If you don’t learn something new, maybe kids can! Either way, it’s fun.
Recently, the channel uploaded a video showing off different ways to conquer icy grades. For the simulation, the YouTuber is using soap and water on glass. It’s not perfect, of course, but gets the point across. This video was covered by the Drive earlier this month. It’s still a fun watch, so let’s take a look!
Our host starts off with a simple rear-wheel drive car with its weight toward the front. The vehicle spins its tires on the 5 percent grade without making much progress. Simply moving the weight onto the drive wheels was enough to get the car through.
In real life, this would be the equivalent of tossing some bags of sand over the drive wheels of your car, pickup truck, or SUV. [Editor’s Note: Or, driving a rear-engined car like a Beetle! – JT]
Further demonstrating how rear-wheel-drive works in this situation, the host ups the stakes with a 7 percent grade. The car gets stuck again. This time, the channel is showing how an open differential works. As we’ve discussed a number of times in the past, an open diff allows drive wheels to turn at different speeds. The result is great for driving on pavement, where you don’t want to drag your tires through turns. However, since open diffs cannot bias torque, they can be a pain off-road and in snow. When you get into a predicament, the open differential will send torque to the wheel in the air or otherwise with the least traction, which is no help to you.
To remedy this, the YouTuber adds in a locker. Now, both rear wheels spin equally. It’s still stuck on the 7 percent grade and requires even more weight to complete the climb.
Next, we raise the simulated road to an 8 percent grade. Even more weight is required to get any traction at all and more throttle helps the vehicle complete the climb. Now the road is at a 10 percent grade and the rear-wheel-drive car is no match.
It’s here the YouTuber shows how effective all-wheel-drive could be, at least when you’re working with toys on a soapy glass surface. The car gets a driveshaft to the front plus an open front differential. This is enough to allow the car to climb with ease.
If you want to know more about differentials, General Motors made an instructional video back in the 1930s that still hits the spot today:
Now we start getting pretty steep as the YouTuber tilts the road to a 14-degree grade. The AWD car is unable to complete the task and adding a higher gear ratio doesn’t help. Adding more traction to the rear is accomplished through converting the car to a dual rear wheel setup, and that gets the machine through.
The YouTuber notches things up to a 15 percent grade, where the dually truck car thing fails to make headway.
Here’s where things start getting silly. Instead of adding weight or trying other methods, the YouTuber adds on a third dually axle to the vehicle, creating a 6×6. The new truck makes it up the grade without an issue. However, even the 6×6 falls flat on a 17 percent grade. Adding power in the form of a stronger motor and sending it doesn’t help. Turning the truck into an 8×8 by way of a second front axle gets it further, but the truck still fails. Even more weight doesn’t get it through.
It seems we’ve reached the limits of what a Lego truck could do with rubber tires, so the YouTuber slams their fist on the table, breaks up the truck, and then starts over by making a tracked snow car. As snow vehicle pioneers like Joseph-Armand Bombardier have shown, tracks beat snow when tires cannot.
The first tracked vehicle had enough traction but never completed the climb because it kept falling apart during attempts. We now go through a couple of different designs, each attempting and failing to get up the 17 percent grade. The YouTuber builds a tank, which slips off immediately. Then we get a weird 6-leg walker vehicle, which is probably the worst vehicle yet for traction. Adding fabric to the walker’s legs ends up getting the job done. The walker continues its march even at a 20 percent grade.
Next, we arrive at a grade of 40 percent. This video already reached the point of being unrealistic back when we introduced the walker, but the grade takes it further. Here in America, the steepest road you’ll find is Canton Avenue in Pittsburgh, which reportedly rises to a 37 percent grade. The walker vehicle needed two more legs and larger fabric pads to climb the 40 percent grade.
Finally, we arrived at a crazy 60 percent grade. This is far beyond what your car could handle. The YouTuber first attempts to create a fan car for the task before combining the air car with the walker for the vehicle equivalent of a cryptid. This contraption completes the climb.
As I said before, this video isn’t a perfect representation of what happens in the winter. Brick Technology wasn’t testing on icy pavement but soapy glass. They were also using plastic toys instead of real cars with real snow tires. Still, it’s a fun visualization of finding traction on slippery surfaces.
If you’re interested in seeing Lego vehicles answer questions you didn’t know you wanted the answer to, give Brick Technology a watch. I mean, two of the channel’s other videos from this year include “Can a Lego Car Roll Downhill Forever?” and “Making A Billion-Year Lego Clock.” You know, I didn’t think I wanted to know what a billion-year Lego clock is like, but now I do.
(Images: Brick Technology on YouTube, unless otherwise noted.)
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