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Title:
WHEEL ASSEMBLY INCLUDING RELATIVE MOVEMENT SENSOR AND RELATED METHODS
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2020/018405
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
A wheel assembly may include an inner rim to be coupled to the hub of the vehicle, and an outer rim surrounding the inner rim. Gas springs may be operatively coupled between the inner rim and the outer rim and permitting relative movement there between. The wheel assembly may also include a sensor configured to sense the relative movement between the inner and outer rims.

Inventors:
KEMENY ZOLTAN (US)
Application Number:
US2019/041769
Publication Date:
January 23, 2020
Filing Date:
July 15, 2019
Export Citation:
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Assignee:
AIR SUSPENSION WHEELS LLC (US)
International Classes:
B60B9/24; B60B9/28; B60B9/26; B60B27/00; B60G17/08; F15B15/28
Foreign References:
US20170349003A12017-12-07
DE102015122840A12017-06-29
DE202005010968U12006-10-05
DE202005010928U12005-10-27
US0911975A1909-02-09
US1601518A1926-09-28
US1808886A1931-06-09
US1979935A1934-11-06
US6041838A2000-03-28
US6698480B12004-03-02
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
REGAN, Christopher F. et al. (US)
Download PDF:
Claims:
THAT WHICH IS CLAIMED IS:

1. A wheel assembly to be coupled to a hub of a vehicle, the wheel assembly comprising:

an inner rim to be coupled to the hub of the vehicle;

an outer rim surrounding said inner rim;

a plurality of gas springs operatively coupled between said inner rim and said outer rim and permitting relative movement therebetween; and

at least one sensor configured to sense the relative movement between said inner rim and said outer rim.

2. The wheel assembly of claim 1 , comprising a distance

measuring circuit coupled to said at least one sensor.

3. The wheel assembly of claim 2, comprising a wireless

transmitter coupled to said distance measuring circuit.

4. The wheel assembly of claim 1 , wherein said at least one sensor comprises at least one accelerometer.

5. The wheel assembly of claim 4, wherein said at least one accelerometer comprises an inner accelerometer carried by said inner rim, and an outer accelerometer carried by said outer rim.

6. The wheel assembly of claim 4, wherein said at least one accelerometer comprises a three axis accelerometer.

7. The wheel assembly of claim 1 , wherein said at least one sensor comprises a laser distance measuring sensor.

8. The wheel assembly of claim 1 , wherein said at least one sensor comprises an ultrasonic sensor.

9. The wheel assembly of claim 1 , comprising a temperature sensor carried by said outer rim.

10. The wheel assembly of claim 1 , comprising a humidity sensor carried by said outer rim.

11. The wheel assembly of claim 1 , comprising at least one tread assembly carried by said outer rim.

12. The wheel assembly of claim 1 , wherein said outer rim has a diameter of at least 3.5 feet.

13. The wheel assembly of claim 1 , wherein each of said plurality of gas springs comprises a double-acting gas cylinder and associated piston.

14. A wheel assembly to be coupled to a hub of a vehicle, the wheel assembly comprising:

an inner rim to be coupled to the hub of the vehicle;

an outer rim surrounding the inner rim;

a plurality of gas springs operatively coupled between said inner rim and said outer rim and permitting relative movement therebetween;

at least one tread assembly carried by said outer rim; and at least one accelerometer configured to sense the relative movement between said inner rim and said outer rim.

15. The wheel assembly of claim 14, comprising a distance measuring circuit coupled to said at least one accelerometer.

16. The wheel assembly of claim 15, comprising a wireless transmitter coupled to said distance measuring circuit.

17. The wheel assembly of claim 14, wherein said at least one accelerometer comprises an inner accelerometer carried by said inner rim, and an outer accelerometer carried by said outer rim.

18. The wheel assembly of claim 14, wherein said at least one accelerometer comprises a three axis accelerometer.

19. A method of sensing relative movement between an inner rim of a wheel assembly to be coupled to a hub of a vehicle and an outer rim of the wheel assembly, the outer rim surrounding the inner rim, the wheel assembly comprising a plurality of gas springs operatively coupled between the inner rim and the outer rim and permitting the relative movement therebetween, the method comprising:

using at least one sensor to sense the relative movement between the inner rim and the outer rim.

20. The method of claim 19, comprising using a distance measuring circuit coupled to the at least one sensor to sense the distance between the inner rim and the outer rim.

21. The method of claim 20, comprising using a wireless transmitter coupled to the distance measuring circuit to wirelessly communicate data

representative of the distance between the inner and outer rims.

22. The method of claim 19, wherein the at least one sensor comprises at least one accelerometer.

Description:
WHEEL ASSEMBLY INCLUDING RELATIVE MOVEMENT SENSOR

AND RELATED METHODS

Technical Field

[0001] The present invention relates to the field of wheels, and, more particularly, to a wheel assembly for a vehicle, such as a construction or mining vehicle, and related methods.

Background

[0002] A typical wheel may include a rim and tire surrounding the rim. The tire transfers a load of a vehicle from the axle through the wheel to the ground. Tires, for example, those found on most vehicles are pneumatic tires. In other words, a typical tire is pneumatically inflated, for example, with air or other gas, such as nitrogen. More particularly, air is injected into the space between the rim and the inside of the tire to inflate it.

[0003] During operation, being pneumatically inflated, a tire absorbs the forces as the vehicle travels over the road surface. The tire and associated inflation pressure may be selected to absorb the above-noted forces while reducing any deformation. However, in many instances, excessive forces placed on the tire may cause the tire and/or rim to deform, puncture, or blowout. Typical forces also cause tread wear of the tire, while excessive forces may also cause rapid tread wear that may lead to a shortened lifespan of the tire and decreased structural integrity of the wheel.

[0004] To address the shortcomings of pneumatic-based wheels, non- pneumatic wheels have been developed. By non-pneumatic, it is meant that air or other gas is not injected to inflate an interior volume of a tire. One approach to a non-pneumatic wheel uses mechanical springs. For example, U.S. Patent No.

911 ,975 to Gustafson discloses a spring wheel. Secondary spokes are arranged in pairs between pairs of main spokes and the members of each of the secondary spokes therefore pass upon opposite sides of a corresponding pair of intersecting braces. Each of the secondary spokes includes a pair of telescoping members that are pivotally connected at its outer end to ears formed on the hub and extends at its opposite end into a corresponding member. [0005] U.S. Patent No. 1 ,601 ,518 to Weston discloses a resilient wheel that includes radial arms. Connection between a hub and rim members may be provided by pivot pins in outer ends of these arms that have links journaled thereon. The links are pivotally articulated with bent levers, which are in turn pivoted on bracket arms that extend inwardly from the part-circular plates, which are mounted on an inner periphery of a tire holding rim.

[0006] Another approach includes a disc between a wheel hub and outer rim. For example, U.S. Patent No. 1 ,808,886 to Courtney also discloses a disc or sidewall between a wheel hub and a rim. The disc is engaged by studs that project from the wheel hub and extends from an outer flange obliquely to the wheel hub.

The disc assists the wheel tire and rim by resisting any tendency to become displayed laterally as a result of stresses occurring while the wheel is turning.

[0007] U.S. Patent No. 1 ,979,935 to Henap discloses a hydraulic spoke wheel. Each of the hydraulic spokes include telescoping sections in the form of an outer section and an inner section. The outer section has the stud projecting from one end. The inner section extends from the outer section and is equipped at its extended end with the stem.

[0008] U.S. Patent No. 6,041 ,838 to Al-Sabah discloses a wheel that includes spokes positioned in a spaced apart relation to each other. Each of the spokes has a first end connected to a rim and a second end connected to a plate member tip of a hub plate member in an offset position from the respective radial axis thereof. The offset position of each of the spokes is further defined by each of the spokes being connected to a respective one of the plate member tips at a predetermined angle (e.g., less than 90-degrees) from the radial axis thereof and defining an operative offset spoke axis, which intersects the radial axis of the plate member tips at the predetermined angle.

[0009] U.S. Patent No. 6,698,480 to Cornellier discloses shock absorbing spokes each having a central cylindrical tube. Each tube has an interior cap having an aperture and an exterior cap having an aperture. Each spoke has an interior piston, a rod with an aperture and a pin. The pin pivotably couples one of the spokes to the hub. Each spoke has an exterior piston, a rod with an aperture and a pin. The pin pivotably couples one of the spokes to the rim assembly. The interior pistons and exterior pistons divide the space within each tube into an interior chamber, an exterior chamber, and a central chamber.

[0010] Despite advances in pneumatic tire wheels, and non-pneumatic tire wheels, there is still a need for improvements in wheel technology, particularly, for large construction vehicles, or mining vehicles, for example. The expense of wheel replacement, and the downtime experienced during wheel replacement may add significant expenses to the construction or mining projects.

Summary

[0011] A wheel assembly to be coupled to a hub of a vehicle may include an inner rim to be coupled to the hub of the vehicle and an outer rim surrounding the inner rim. The wheel assembly may also include a plurality of gas springs

operatively coupled between the inner rim and the outer rim and permitting relative movement therebetween. The wheel assembly may further include at least one sensor configured to sense the relative movement between the inner and outer rims.

[0012] The wheel assembly may also include a distance measuring circuit coupled to the at least one sensor. The wheel assembly may also include a wireless transmitter coupled to the distance measuring circuit, for example.

[0013] The at least one sensor may include at least one accelerometer. The at least one accelerometer may include an inner accelerometer carried by the inner rim, and an outer accelerometer carried by the outer rim, for example. The at least one accelerometer may include a three axis accelerometer.

[0014] The at least one sensor may include a laser distance measuring sensor, for example. The at least one sensor may include an ultrasonic sensor, for example. The wheel assembly may include a temperature sensor carried by the outer rim.

[0015] The wheel assembly may include a humidity sensor carried by the outer rim, for example. The wheel assembly may include at least one tread assembly carried by the outer rim.

[0016] The outer rim may have a diameter of at least 3.5 feet, for example. Each of the plurality of gas springs may include a double-acting gas cylinder and associated piston, for example.

[0017] A method aspect is directed to a method of sensing relative movement between an inner rim of a wheel assembly to be coupled to a hub of a vehicle and an outer rim of the wheel assembly. The outer rim surrounds the inner rim. The wheel assembly includes a plurality of gas springs operatively coupled between the inner rim and the outer rim and permitting relative movement therebetween. The method may include using at least one sensor to sense the relative movement between the inner and outer rims.

Brief Description of the Drawings

[0018] FIG. 1 is a side view of a vehicle having wheel assemblies according to an embodiment.

[0019] FIG. 2 is a perspective view of a wheel assembly according to an embodiment.

[0020] FIG. 3 is another perspective view of the wheel assembly of FIG. 2.

[0021] FIG. 4 is another perspective view of the wheel assembly of FIG. 2.

[0022] FIG. 5 is a perspective view of a portion of the wheel assembly of FIG.

2.

[0023] FIG. 6 is a perspective view of the inner rim, disk, and attachment brackets of the wheel assembly of FIG. 2.

[0024] FIG. 7 is a perspective view of a portion of a wheel assembly including tread assemblies and a removable sidewall in accordance with an embodiment.

[0025] FIG. 8 is a perspective view of a portion of a wheel assembly in accordance with an embodiment.

[0026] FIG. 9 is another perspective view of a portion of a wheel assembly in accordance with an embodiment.

[0027] FIG. 10 is a perspective view of the tread member support of FIG. 9.

[0028] FIG. 11 is a perspective view of a portion of the tread assembly of FIG.

9.

[0029] FIG. 12 is a perspective view of a tread member of the tread assembly of FIG. 9.

[0030] FIG. 13 is a perspective view of an inboard clamping member of a wheel assembly according to an embodiment.

[0031] FIG. 14 is a perspective view of an outboard clamping member of a wheel assembly according to an embodiment.

[0032] FIG. 15 is a perspective view of a portion of a wheel assembly including outboard clamping members in accordance with an embodiment. [0033] FIG. 16 is a cross-sectional view of a portion of an outer rim, retaining feature, and tread assembly in accordance with an embodiment.

[0034] FIG. 17 is a cross-sectional view of a portion of a tread assembly in accordance with another embodiment.

[0035] FIG. 18 is a perspective view of a wheel assembly in accordance with another embodiment.

[0036] FIG. 19 is a schematic diagram of the lateral stops of FIG. 18.

[0037] FIG. 20 is a schematic diagram of a portion of a wheel assembly including a local controller for controlling an operating response of a gas spring in accordance with an embodiment.

[0038] FIG. 21 is a schematic diagram of a portion of a wheel assembly including a local controller for controlling an operating response of a gas spring in accordance with another embodiment.

[0039] FIG. 22 is a perspective view of the inboard removable sidewall of the wheel assembly in accordance with an embodiment.

[0040] FIG. 23 is a perspective view of an outboard removable sidewall of a wheel assembly in accordance with an embodiment.

[0041] FIG. 24 is a perspective view of a wheel assembly in accordance with another embodiment.

[0042] FIG. 25 is a schematic diagram of a portion of a wheel assembly including a sensor for measuring distance between the inner and outer rims in accordance with another embodiment.

[0043] FIG. 26 is a side cut-away view of a portion of a wheel assembly in accordance with another embodiment.

[0044] FIG. 27 a perspective cut-away view of the portion of the wheel assembly of FIG. 26.

[0045] FIG. 28 is a perspective view of a cover ring and flexible seal of FIG. 27.

[0046] FIG. 29 is another perspective view of the cover ring and flexible seal of FIG. 27.

[0047] FIG. 30 is a perspective view of the flexible seal of FIG. 27.

[0048] FIG. 31 is a perspective view of another cover ring and flexible seal of

FIG. 27. Detailed Description

[0049] The present invention will now be described more fully hereinafter with reference to the accompanying drawings, in which preferred embodiments of the invention are shown. This invention may, however, be embodied in many different forms and should not be construed as limited to the embodiments set forth herein. Rather, these embodiments are provided so that this disclosure will be thorough and complete, and will fully convey the scope of the invention to those skilled in the art. Like numbers refer to like elements throughout, and prime notation is used to indicate similar elements in alternative embodiments.

[0050] Referring initially to FIGS. 1 -5, a wheel assembly 30 to be coupled to a hub 21 of a vehicle 20 includes an inner rim 31 to be coupled to the hub of the vehicle. The inner rim 31 may be coupled to the hub 21 of the vehicle 20 with fasteners through fastener receiving passageways 24 within inwardly extending flange ring 25. Illustratively, the flange ring 25 is centered laterally within the inner rim 31 , but may be positioned in another arrangement based upon a desired mounting arrangement with the hub 21. Other coupling arrangements may be used to couple the inner rim 31 to the hub 21.

[0051] The wheel assembly 30 also includes an outer 33 rim surrounding the inner rim 31. The outer rim 33 may have a diameter of at least 3.5 feet, and more particularly, at least 4 feet. Those skilled in the art will appreciate that with a diameter of at least 3.5 feet, the wheel assembly 30, and more particularly, the outer rim 33 may be particularly advantageous for relatively large or heavy machinery, such as, for example, earth excavation equipment and mining equipment. A typical overall outer diameter of such a wheel assembly be 100 inches or greater. The outer rim 33 may have an increased thickness portion 38 along an inner

circumference thereof. The increased thickness portion 38 may be provided by welding a separate reinforcing ring in position or it may be integrally formed with the outer rim 33, for example.

[0052] Referring additionally to FIG. 6, a disk 40 is coupled to the inner rim 31 and defines a closeable gap 41 with adjacent interior portions of the outer rim 33. The disk 40 also includes weight-reduction openings 43 therein. The weight- reduction openings 43 each illustratively have a generally round or circular shape. The weight-reduction openings 43 may have another shape, such as oblong, hexagonal, and/or contoured for stress reduction, for example. Those skilled in the art will appreciate that having a reduced weight may increase the fuel efficiency of the vehicle 20 and/or may increase the lifespan of wheel assembly 30.

[0053] The disk 40 also includes spaced apart thickened wall portions 42.

The spaced apart thickened wall portions 42 may be on both the inboard and outboard surfaces of the disk 40. Each thickened wall portion 42 may provide increased strength or support as a coupling or attachment point, and/or to accept increased stresses thereat as will be described in further detail below. The thickened wall portions 42 may be provided by welding an additional metal body in position, for example, or they may be integrally formed with the disk 40. Those skilled in the art will appreciate that the thickened wall portions 42 may be in the form of solid extensions (i.e. , integrally formed with and/or a build-up of) of the disk 40, and/or discrete bodies, for example, that function as mechanical stiffeners.

[0054] The inner rim 31 , outer rim 33, and disk 40 may be formed of a high strength and rugged material, such as steel. As will be appreciated by those skilled in the art other materials may also be used.

[0055] Gas springs 50 are operatively coupled between the inner rim 31 and the outer rim 33. Each gas spring 50 may be a double-acting gas spring, for example, and include a double-acting gas cylinder 51 and an associated piston 52.

Of course, in some embodiments, each gas spring 50 may be a single-acting gas spring. More than one type of gas spring may be used. The gas springs 50 may be air springs and/or nitrogen springs, for example. The gas springs 50 may include other gasses as well.

[0056] Illustratively, the gas springs 50 are arranged in pairs on opposite sides of the disk 40. More particularly, the gas springs 50 diverge outwardly from the inner rim 31 to the outer rim 33. A respective attachment bracket 53 for each gas spring 50 is coupled to a respective thickened wall portion 42 of the disk 40, for example, adjacent the inner rim 31. Each attachment bracket 53 may include a generally U- shaped or V-shaped base bracket that receives an end of the piston 52 therein (e.g., between the arm of the U- or V-shaped bracket). A fastener fastens the end of the piston 52 of the gas spring 50 to the base bracket and thus, each gas spring is coupled adjacent the respective thickened wall portion 42 of the disk 40 and adjacent the inner rim 31. A similar attachment bracket 53 is coupled to the outer rim 33 adjacent inboard and outboard surfaces. Accordingly, the gas springs 50 are pivotably coupled between the inner and outer rims 31 , 33.

[0057] As will be appreciated by those skilled in the art, the gas springs 50 provide a gas suspension for relative movement between the inner rim 31 and the outer rim 33. The gas springs 50 have an operating stroke the permits the disk 40 to define a mechanical stop. In other words, the gas springs 50 maintain the outer rim 33 spaced apart from the inner rim 31. However, if pressure on any gas spring 50 causes the gas spring to reach its limit under load or the gas spring fails, the disk 40 may act as a mechanical stop to limit relative movement of the inner and outer rims 31 , 33. In other words, the disk 40 and gas springs 50 may considered as providing a run-flat capability.

[0058] Initial charge pressures of the gas springs 50, for example, when the gas springs are in the form of double-acting gas springs, will now be described, for example, with respect to initial pressures in the wheel assembly 30 when there are little or no external loads applied thereto (i.e. , free-wheel). In particular, the chamber associated with the piston-side of the cylinder 51 is typically smaller (e.g., by about 10%) than the chamber associated with the full-bore side of the cylinder. Thus, when the piston 52 is centered within the cylinder 51 so that there is a relatively equal stroke in tension and compression, the piston-side chamber pressure is higher (e.g., by about 10%) than the full-bore side chamber pressure.

[0059] Thus, while equal pressure charging of the double-acting gas cylinder 51 may be convenient, it results in an offset piston 52, which, in turn, results in an offset force to be applied to assemble the gas springs 50 within the wheel assembly 30. To accomplish this, the inner and outer rims 31 , 33 may be temporarily fixed in a rigid jig. However, using a rigid jig may make replacement of the gas springs 50 in the field increasingly difficult. Thus, to address increased ease of in-field

replacement of the gas springs 50, weld-on rings may be coupled to the inner and outer rims 31 , 33 and to turn-buckles to temporarily lock the inner and outer rims in place. A similar arrangement may be used in-shop as well, as will be appreciated by those skilled in the art.

[0060] Accordingly, the result is a pre-stressed inner rim 31 suspension to the outer rim 33. The pre-stressing may ensure that the lateral stops 44, 45 (described below) are not active or under pressure. With different charge pressures, the suspension can be pre-corn pressed. While tension suspension and compression suspension may be considered equivalent, tension suspension may be particularly advantageous over compression suspension, as will be appreciated by those skilled in the art.

[0061] Another assembly technique may include applying a higher charge pressure (e.g., about 10% more) at the piston-side to center the piston 52 at about the half-stroke position. This results in there being no initial load on the gas spring 50 at the wheel assembly 30 and facilitates assembly without the temporary fixing within a jig. Thus, the wheel assembly 30 may be considered to be neither pre- stressed, nor pre-corn pressed, but neutral. For example, a higher full-bore side chamber pressure may be applied (e.g., about 10% higher) than the piston side chamber pressure. Gas may be released from the full-bore side chamber until the piston 52 becomes centered relative to full-stroke. Alternatively, a higher piston-side chamber pressure may be applied (e.g., about 10% higher) than the full-bore side chamber pressure. Releasing gas from the cylinder 51 may be considered easier than surcharging, however, this may use more gas (e.g., nitrogen) than other approaches resulting in an increased cost.

[0062] The wheel assembly 30 also includes inboard lateral stops 44 carried by an inboard surface of the outer rim 33. More particularly, the inboard lateral stops 44 are positioned adjacent the thickened wall portion 42. The wheel assembly 30 also includes outboard lateral stops 45 carried by an outboard surface of the outer rim 33. Similarly to the inboard lateral stops 44, the outboard lateral stops 45 are adjacent the thickened wall portion 42. Each thickened wall portion 42 is positioned between a pair of inboard and outboard lateral stops 44, 45. The inboard and outboard lateral stops 44, 45 together with the outer rim 33 may conceptually be considered to be in the form of an L-shaped bracket. Illustratively, the inboard and outboard lateral stops 44, 45 each has a support plate 61 (e.g., having a rectangular shape) that is transverse to the outer rim 33 and has triangular side members 62.

[0063] As will be appreciated by those skilled in the art, the inboard and outboard lateral stops 44, 45 cooperate to limit relative lateral movement of the disk 40 and the outer rim 33. In other words, turning, for example, of the vehicle 20 may cause lateral movement of the disk 40 relative to the outer rim 33. The inboard and outboard lateral stops 44, 45 may limit the amount of lateral movement of the disk 40 relative to the outer rim 33 to thereby maintain structural integrity of the wheel assembly 30. Of course, the inboard and outboard lateral stops 44, 45 include other and/or additional components or elements that cooperate to limit relative lateral movement of the disk 40 and the outer rim 33.

[0064] Referring now additionally to FIGS. 7-16, the wheel assembly 30 illustratively includes tread assemblies 70 carried by the outer rim 33. Each tread assembly 70 includes a tread member support 71. Each tread member support 71 may be in the form of an arcuate metal plate with openings 69a, 69b therein (FIG.

10) and may couple to an outer circumference of the outer rim 33. One or more of the tread member supports 71 may be a flat plate in other embodiments. A center one of the openings 69b may receive a pin 83 therein as will be described in further detail below. In some embodiments, the tread member support 71 may not be metal, such as steel. Those skilled in the art will appreciate that given the arcuate shape of the tread member support 71 , several tread assemblies 70 are coupled in end-to-end relation around the outer rim 33.

[0065] A tread member 72 is coupled or bonded, for example, glued, fastened, etc., to the tread member support 71 , and a clamping arrangement 73 removably securing the tread member support to the outer rim 33. There may be more than one tread member 72 bonded to the tread member support 71. The tread member 72 includes a resilient body 85 that has tread pattern 86 defined in an outer surface thereof. The resilient body 85 may include rubber or other material, which may be selected based upon desired friction, traction, or other characteristics, for example, based upon the use of the vehicle 20. The material of the tread member 72 may a metal such as steel, in other embodiments. The tread pattern 86 may similarly be selected based upon desired traction or other characteristics, for example, based upon the use of the vehicle 20. Moreover, referring briefly to FIG. 17, in another embodiment, each tread member 72’ and tread member support 71’ may include a common material integrally formed as a monolithic unit, which may or may not be metal, such as steel. In other words, each tread member 72’ and tread member support 71’ define a single unit or body of the same material (e.g., an all-metal tread member support and tread member).

[0066] Further details of the clamping arrangement 73 will now be described. The clamping arrangement 73 illustratively includes inboard clamping members 74 coupled to the inboard side of the outer rim 33. The inboard clamping members 74 each have a first slotted recess 75 receiving adjacent portions of the tread member support 71. The inboard clamping members 74 are removably coupled to the inboard side of the outer rim 33. The inboard clamping members 74 are illustratively arranged in an end-to-end relation and each coupled to adjacent respective portions of the outer rim 33. In some embodiments, the inboard clamping members 74 may be fixed, for example, welded or fixedly coupled, to the inboard side of the outer rim 33 and/or a single inboard clamping member may be used.

[0067] The inboard clamping members 74 are coupled to the inboard side of the outer rim 33 by way of fasteners 79a, for example, threaded fasteners to facilitate removal and replacement, for example, when tread members 72 wear or it is desirable to replace the tread members. The threaded fasteners 79a may extend through openings 89 in the inboard clamping members 74 and engage

corresponding threaded openings 81a in the outer rim 33.

[0068] The clamping arrangement 73 also illustratively includes outboard clamping members 76 coupled to the outboard side of the outer rim 33. Similar to the inboard clamping member 74, the outboard clamping members 76 each has a second slotted recess 77 therein receiving adjacent portions of the tread member support 71. The outboard clamping members 76 are removably coupled to the outboard side of the outer rim 33. The outboard clamping members 76 are illustratively arranged in an end-to-end relation and each coupled to adjacent respective portions of the outer rim 33. In some embodiments, a single outboard clamping member 76 may be coupled to the outboard side of the outer rim 33 and extend the circumference of the outer rim.

[0069] The outboard clamping members 76 are coupled to the outboard side of the outer rim 33 by way of fasteners, for example, threaded fasteners to facilitate removal and replacement, for example, when tread members 72 wear, or it is desirable to replace the tread members. The threaded fasteners may extend through openings 78 in the outboard clamping members 76 and engage

corresponding threaded openings 81b in the outer rim 33.

[0070] The tread member support 71 and adjacent portions of the outer rim 33 (e.g., along the outer circumference) define a retaining feature therebetween. The retaining feature is illustratively in the form of or includes a pin 83 carried by the outer rim 33 and a pin-receiving opening 84 in the tread member support 71. The pin 83 and the pin-receiving opening 84 may advantageously prevent relative movement between the tread member support 71 and the outer rim 33, and also facilitate replacement (e.g., easy alignment) of the tread members 72, for example, thereby reducing downtime of the vehicle 20.

[0071] Referring now briefly to FIGS. 18 and 19, in another embodiment, the inboard and outboard lateral stops 44”, 45” are biased toward the disk 40”. More particularly, the inboard and outboard lateral stops 44”, 45” each includes an arm 46” extending radially inward from the inboard and outboard interior surfaces of the outer rim 33”. A transverse arm 47” is coupled to an end of each arm 46”. Each transverse arm 47” carries a plug 48” that is biased toward the disk 40” by a biasing member 49”, for example, a spring, such as a coil spring. Other biasing

arrangements may be used.

[0072] Referring now additionally to FIG. 20, one or more of the gas springs 50 may have a controllable response. For example, the gas springs 50 may have either or both of a controllable gas pressure and a controllable gas volume. Any number of the gas springs 50 may have a controllable response. By having a controllable response, each of the gas springs 50 may be operated or controlled as will be explained in further detail below, for example, with respect to certain operating conditions and/or environments. More particularly, the wheel assembly 30 may include a local controller 87 (e.g., including a processor and/or circuitry) that is coupled to the gas springs 50. The local controller 87 may be coupled to any number of gas springs 50. The local controller 87 may be carried within the outer rim 33, for example, inside the outer rim, or by the disk 40. The local controller 87 may be carried by other elements of the wheel assembly 30. The local controller 87 may also include respective actuators and/or valves to control the response of the gas springs 50 and cooperate with an accumulator 91 also coupled to the gas springs to act as a pressure and/or volume storage reservoir for gas springs.

[0073] The wheel assembly 30 may also include a local sensor 88 coupled to the local controller 87. The local controller 87 may control (e.g., monitor and/or adjust) the operating response of the gas springs 50 based upon the local sensor 88. For example, the local controller 87 may adjust the pressure or volume of the gas springs 50 without controlling the operation (e.g., extend/retract) of the gas springs. The local controller 87 may also adjust, for example, alternatively or additionally, the operation (e.g., extend/retract) of the gas springs 50.

[0074] The local sensor 88 may be an acceleration sensor, for example, and cooperate with the local controller 87 to control the controllable response of the gas springs 50 based upon a sensed acceleration (e.g., braking, turning, etc.). The local sensor 88 may be another type of sensor, for example, a force sensor. There may be more than one local sensor 88. In some embodiments, the local controller 87 may cooperate with the local sensor 88 to generate a notification, for example, when a sensed value exceeds a threshold. The notification may be communicate within the vehicle 20 (e.g., in the cab) or remotely from the vehicle. In other words, the local controller 87 may cooperate with the local sensor 88 independently from or without controlling the operating response of the gas springs 50.

[0075] Referring now briefly to FIG. 21 , in another embodiment, a remote controller 92’” may be carried remote from the wheel assembly 30, for example, within a wheel well of the vehicle 20 or within the truck cab. The remote controller 92”’ may cooperate with the local sensor 88”’ or other sensor, for example, remote from the wheel assembly 30. The remote controller 92”’ may also cooperate with the local controller 87”’ to effectuate a change in the operating response of the gas springs 50”’. Wiring from the remote controller 92”’ may extend to the local controller 87”’, and/or the remote controller may wirelessly communicate with the local controller.

[0076] Those skilled in the art will appreciate that the local controller 87 controls the operating response of the gas springs 50 while the wheel assembly 30 is rolling. For example, if the vehicle 20, during motion thereof, makes a relatively sharp turn or applies the brakes, the local controller 87 may independently control the operating response of each or selected ones of the gas springs 50 based upon the turn or braking (e.g., increase pressures in the gas springs of front wheel assemblies). Other motion of the vehicle 20 may cause changes in the operating response, such as, for example, failure of any of the gas springs 50, debris in the tread members 72, and/or contact of the disk 40 with the outer rim 33.

[0077] Referring now additionally to FIGS. 22 and 23, the wheel assembly 30 may include inboard and outboard removable sidewalls 93, 94. The inboard and outboard removable sidewalls 93, 94 are each illustratively in the form of a round or circular cover carried by the outer rim 33. More particularly, the inboard and outboard removable sidewalls 93, 94 each has an opening 95, 105 therein to permit, for example, coupling of the wheel assembly 30 to the hub 21. Respective flanges 103, 106 extend inwardly within the openings 95, 105. The inboard and outboard removable sidewalls 93, 94 may each be coupled to the inboard and outboard sides of the outer rim 33 by way of fasteners 97a, 97b and to the inner rim 31 also by way of fasteners 107a, 107b. The fasteners 97a, 97b may be received through fastener receiving passageways along the outer circumference of each of the inboard and outboard removable sidewalls 93, 94 and fasten to corresponding respective aligned threaded passageways 98a, 98b in the outer rim 33. The threaded passageways 98a, 98b in the outer rim 33 form a second, inner row of threaded passageways, with the outer row of threaded passageways 81a, 81b for securing the clamping arrangement 73 to the outer rim with fasteners 79a (FIG. 7).

[0078] Referring now to FIG. 24, in another embodiment, the outboard removable sidewall 94”” may have a removable inner panel 101”” that when removed, by way of respective fasteners 102””, permit access to inner interior of the wheel assembly 30””, for example, the inner rim. Similar to the outboard removable sidewall described above, the outboard sidewall 94”” couples by way of fasteners 97b”” to the outer rim 33”” inside of or adjacent the outboard clamping members 76”” (which are secured to the outer rim also by way of fasteners 79b””). Elements illustrated but not specifically described are similar to those described above.

[0079] As will be appreciated by those skilled in the art, the inboard and outboard removable sidewalls 93, 94 may be particularly advantageous for reducing the amount of dust and/or debris within the interior of the wheel assembly 30, for example, between the inner and outer rims 31 , 33. Accordingly, elements of the wheel assembly 30, for example, the disk 40 and gas springs 50, may have increased protection against damage, for example, from environmental elements (e.g., rocks, dust, dirt, water, etc.), and thus may have a longer service life. In some embodiments, the wheel assembly 30 may not include the inboard and outboard removable sidewalls 93, 94.

[0080] Referring now to FIG. 25, in another embodiment, sensors 188a, 188b sense relative movement, such as by sensing a distance between the inner rim 131 and the outer rim 133. More particularly, the sensors 188a, 188b may be in the form of three-axis accelerometers. Of course, the sensors 188a, 188b may be other types of sensors, for example, laser distance sensors, ultrasonic sensors, linear variable differential transformer (LVDT) sensors, and/or other contact or non-contact displacement sensors.

[0081] When the sensors 188a, 188b are in the form of three-axis

accelerometers, one of the accelerometers is carried by the inner rim 131 defining an inner accelerometer, while another accelerometer is carried by the outer rim 133 defining an outer accelerometer. The inner and outer accelerometers 188a, 188b are aligned by way of their axes so that relative movement of the inner and outer rims 131 , 133 as a sensed acceleration can be translated, for example, by way of a distance measuring circuit 187 coupled to the accelerometers 188a, 188b (e.g., integrating each acceleration).

[0082] The sensors 188a, 188b may each be different from one another. For example, an ultrasonic sensor may be used with the inner and outer accelerometers 188a, 188b to sense or measure displacement (e.g., tangential to the inner and outer accelerometers). Of course, a laser distance sensor may be used as an alternative to the ultrasonic sensor or in conjunction with the ultrasonic sensor and/or the inner and outer accelerometers 188a, 188b. The measuring circuit 187 may be carried by the wheel assembly, the vehicle, or remote from the vehicle.

[0083] A temperature sensor 188c may be carried by the outer rim 133 (e.g., within or on an inner surface of the outer rim) and coupled to the measuring circuit 187 to sense a temperature within the wheel assembly, for example, when a cover or inboard or outboard removable sidewalls are used. A humidity sensor 188d may alternatively or additionally be carried by the outer rim 133 (e.g., within or on an inner surface of the outer rim) and coupled to the measuring circuit 187 to sense humidity within the wheel assembly, for example, when a cover or inboard or outboard removable sidewalls are used. Data representing the humidity, acceleration or distance data (e.g., raw data or processed), and/or temperature may be remotely communicated from the wheel assembly or vehicle via a wireless transmitter 190 coupled to the measuring circuit 187 for downstream processing.

[0084] Referring now to FIGS. 26-31 , in another embodiment, the wheel assembly 230 includes a rigid inboard cover ring 293 coupled to an inboard side of the outer rim 233, for example, by way of fasteners 207a. The rigid inboard cover ring 293 extends radially inward toward the inner rim 231. More particularly, the rigid inboard cover ring 293 defines a radially and axially extending inboard gap with the inner rim 231. A flexible inboard seal 209a, for example, in the form of an inboard bellows seal, is coupled between the rigid inboard cover ring 293 and the inner rim 231 , for example, by way of respective fasteners 208a to couple to the inner rim (e.g., used with a clamping arrangement 212a, such as, for example, metal banding or other material). The flexible inboard seal 209a closes the radially and axially extending inboard gap and permits relative movement of the inner rim 231 and the outer rim 233. Illustratively, the inboard bellows seal 209a has a Z-shaped cross- section. The flexible inboard seal 209a may be a different kind of flexible seal, for example, and may have a different shaped cross-section. The flexible inboard seal 209a may include rubber and/or an elastomeric material. The flexible inboard seal 209a may include other and/or additional materials.

[0085] The wheel assembly 230 also includes a rigid outboard cover ring 294 coupled to an outboard side of the outer rim 233, for example by way of fasteners 207b. The rigid outboard cover ring 294 extends radially inward toward the inner rim 231. More particularly, the rigid outboard cover ring 294 defines a radially and axially extending outboard gap with the inner rim 231. A flexible outboard seal 209b, for example, in the form of an outboard bellows seal, is coupled between the rigid outboard cover ring 294 and the inner rim 231 , for example, by way of respective fasteners 208b (and respective clamping arrangement 212b, for example). The flexible inboard seal 209b closes the radially and axially extending outboard gap and permits relative movement of the inner rim 231 and the outer rim 233. Illustratively, the outboard bellows seal 209a has a Z-shaped cross-section. The flexible outboard seal 209b may be a different kind of flexible seal, for example, and may have a different shaped cross-section.

[0086] Still further, a respective pleated cover 210 (e.g., bellows), is coupled to each of the gas springs 250. In particular, the pleated covers 210 cover the piston so that dust, dirt, and/or debris may be kept from the piston (FIG. 26). A reduced amount of dust, dirt, and/or debris in contact with the piston may increase the operational lifespan of the gas springs 250, as will be appreciated by those skilled in the art. [0087] The flexible outboard seal 209b may include rubber and/or an elastomeric material. The flexible outboard seal 209b may include other and/or additional materials. A rigid outboard cover ring 294 and a flexible outboard seal 209b may not be used in some embodiments. Elements illustrated but not specifically described are similar to the elements described in the above- embodiments, thus the description thereof need not be repeated.

[0088] Referring now particularly to FIG. 31 , similar to the embodiments described above with respect to FIGS. 22-24, a rigid removable inset panel or inner panel 201 may be carried within the rigid outboard cover ring 294 (e.g., secured to the wheel assembly by way of fasteners 297b) so that when removed, by way of respective fasteners 202, permits access to inner interior of the wheel assembly 230, for example, the inner rim. Access ports or removable covers 211a are spaced apart within the rigid outboard cover ring 294. The removable covers 211a may be clear acrylic, for example, to permit visual inspection within the wheel assembly without removing the rigid removable inset panel 201 and/or to permit ease of access to sensors, controller, and/or other circuitry, for example, as described above. A similar arrangement including the access ports or removable covers 211 b may be used as the rigid inboard cover ring 294, for example, as described above (FIGS. 26-27).

The access ports 211a, 211b may be not used in all embodiments.

[0089] The embodiments of the wheel assembly 30 described herein may be particularly advantageous with respect to a conventional pneumatic tire, for example, particularly on a relatively large vehicle (e.g., heavy machinery). A conventional pneumatic tire, for example, for heavy machinery has a relatively high cost and, in some environments, may have a relatively short usage life. Moreover, particularly with heavy machinery, a failure of a conventional tire may cause be associated with an increased chance of damage to the heavy machinery. Even still further, a failure of a conventional tire may cause the vehicle 20 to be inoperable or out of service for a relatively long time period, thus resulting in a financial loss and loss of productivity, particularly for certain types of vehicles or heavy machinery that operate around the clock.

[0090] The wheel assembly 30 may address these shortcomings of a conventional tire. More particularly, the wheel assembly 30 may have a lower operational cost with increased performance (e.g., by way of the controllable operating response of the gas springs 50). Additionally, the wheel assembly 30 may be field serviceable, meaning that tread members 72 may be replaced in the field. Repairs, for example, in the case of failed gas springs 50, may also be repaired in the field.

[0091] A method aspect is directed to a method of making a wheel assembly

30 to be coupled to a hub 21 of a vehicle 20. The method includes operatively coupling a plurality of gas springs 50 between an inner rim 31 to be coupled to the hub 21 of the vehicle 20 and an outer rim 33 surrounding the inner rim. The method also includes mounting a plurality of tread assemblies 70 to the outer rim 33. Each tread assembly 70 may be mounted by bonding at least one tread member 72 to a tread member support 71 and positioning a clamping arrangement 73 to removably secure the tread member support to the outer rim 33.

[0092] Another method aspect is directed to a method of making wheel assembly 30 to be coupled to a hub 21 of a vehicle 20. The method includes operatively coupling a plurality of gas springs 50 between an inner rim 31 to be coupled to the hub 21 of the vehicle 20 and an outer rim 33 surrounding the inner rim

31 to provide a gas suspension for relative movement between the inner rim and the outer rim. The method also includes coupling a disk 40 to the inner rim 31 that defines a closeable gap 41 with adjacent interior portions of the outer rim 33 to define a mechanical stop to limit relative movement of the inner rim and outer rim.

[0093] Another method aspect is directed to a method of making a wheel assembly 30 to be coupled to a hub 21 of a vehicle 20. The method includes operatively coupling a plurality of gas springs 50 operatively between an inner rim 31 to be coupled to the hub 21 of a vehicle 20 and an outer rim 33 surrounding the inner rim to provide a gas suspension for relative movement between the inner rim and the outer rim. The method also includes coupling a disk 40 coupled to the inner rim 31 and defining a closeable gap 41 with adjacent interior portions of the outer rim 33. The method may further include positioning a plurality of inboard lateral stops 44 carried by an inboard interior surface of the outer rim 33, and positioning plurality of outboard lateral stops 45 carried by outboard interior surface of the outer rim so that the plurality of inboard lateral stops and plurality of outboard lateral stops cooperate to limit relative lateral movement of the disk 40 and the outer rim. [0094] Another method aspect is directed to a method of making a wheel assembly 30 to be coupled to a hub 21 of a vehicle 20. The method includes operatively coupling a plurality of gas springs 50 between an inner rim 31 to be coupled to the hub 21 of the vehicle 20 and an outer rim 33 surrounding the inner rim. At least one gas spring 50 from among the plurality thereof has a controllable operating response. The method also includes coupling a local controller 87 to the at least one gas spring 50 to control the operating response of the at least one gas spring.

[0095] Another related method aspect is directed to a method of operating a wheel assembly 30 to be coupled to a hub 21 of a vehicle 20. The wheel assembly 30 includes an inner rim 31 to be coupled to the hub 21 of the vehicle 20, an outer rim 33 surrounding the inner rim, and a plurality of gas springs 50 operatively coupled between the inner rim and the outer rim. At least one gas spring 50 from among the plurality thereof has a controllable operating response. The method includes operating a local controller 87 coupled to the at least one gas spring 50 to control the operating response of the at least one gas spring.

[0096] Another method aspect is directed to a method of sensing relative movement, e.g. a distance, between an inner rim 131 of a wheel assembly 30 to be coupled to a hub 21 of a vehicle 20 and an outer rim 133 of the wheel assembly.

The inner rim 131 is to be coupled to the hub 21 of a vehicle 20 and the outer rim 133 surrounding the inner rim. The wheel assembly 30 includes a plurality of gas springs 50 operatively coupled between the inner rim 131 and the outer rim 133 and permitting relative movement therebetween. The method includes using at least one sensor 188a, 188b to sense the relative movement between the inner and outer rims 131, 133 during operation or rolling of the wheel assembly.

[0097] Another method aspect is directed to a method of making a wheel assembly 30 to be coupled to a hub 21 of a vehicle 20. The method includes coupling an inner rim 231 to be to the hub 21 of the vehicle 20 and positioning an outer rim 233 surrounding the inner rim. The method also includes operatively coupling a plurality of gas springs 50 between the inner rim 231 and the outer rim 233 to permit relative movement therebetween. The method further includes coupling a rigid inboard cover ring 293 to an inboard side of the outer rim 233 and extending radially inward toward the inner rim 231 and coupling a flexible inboard seal 209a between the rigid inboard cover ring and the inner rim.

[0098] While several embodiments have been described herein, those skilled in the art will appreciate that any one or more elements from any one or more embodiments may be used in conjunction with any one or more elements from any other embodiment or embodiments. Moreover, while reference is made herein to inner and outer, those skilled in the art will appreciate that in many embodiments, elements described with respect to inner may be used as outer and vice versa, and/or those elements described as being inner may be used with elements described as being outer and vice versa.

[0099] Many modifications and other embodiments of the invention will come to the mind of one skilled in the art having the benefit of the teachings presented in the foregoing descriptions and the associated drawings. Therefore, it is understood that the invention is not to be limited to the specific embodiments disclosed, and that modifications and embodiments are intended to be included within the scope of the appended claims.