Malawian invents all-terrain wheel, beats rural travel needs

Travel in the often bad-terrain areas of Malawian and beyond may become less hectic, as Malawian Ackeem Ngwenya has come up with a ‘wheel’ that promises to make manoeuvrings on rough terrain a less-burdensome feat, Nyasa Times has learned.

Boasting of the Windmill whiz-kid, Williman amkwamba, now Malawi has put itself back on the invention world stage, as Ngwenya, a graduate student design engineer has combined the 6000 year-old wheel with modern materials to develop a new type of all-terrain wheel assembly that switches from narrow to wide tread at the turn of a screw.

“His roadless wheel system, while envisioned for rural applications in his native Malawi, has the potential to be as big a change to road (and off-road) transport as was the introduction of anti-lock braking,” reports Gizmag through a gmail news link,

The online news adds instead of inflating types with more air pressure to boost the gas mileage a bit, but when stuck in the snow, sand or mud, drivers have let out some pressure to increase the contact area, while at the same time increasing the chances that the now floppy tyre will grab hold.

“However, the benefits of trying to change the aspect ratio of a tyre by simply changing pressure are rather minor, and often associated with a significant loss in tire lifetime, says the report.”

Born on March 27, 1988 and living in London, United Kingdom, Ngwenya’s Roadless wheel system, or the shifting wheel, however attempts to throw out the limitations of a pneumatic tyre by substituting a tread material wrapped around a pair of rod networks attached by an axle. The rods are adjusted using a mechanism reminiscent of a scissor jack.

“When the disks on which the rods are mounted are far apart, the wheel takes the form of a wide tyre of small diameter. When the disks are moved close together, the wheel becomes a narrow tyre of large diameter. The proximate rods from the two disks are mutually attached to a fixed bearing (light blue circle).

Design Engineer Ackeem Ngwenya contemplating the internal structure of his Roadless variable-aspect wheel system

“The tread of the wheel must be sufficiently compliant to adapt to the changing aspect ratio of the wheel, so is likely to be some form of elastomer.

“Alternately, the wheel can include compliant members that directly form the shape and supporting mechanism for the tread, which can then be as simple as a sheet of rubber.

“There are a host of variations of this basic idea, whose genesis was to make it easier for people living in rural Malawi to more easily deliver their goods to market. It does not seem likely that this concept will stop there,” concludes the report.

Core77, another online magazine, says: “The latest wheel reinvention to make the, er, rounds comes from Ackeem Ngwenya, a student of Innovation Design Engineering at London’s RCA. Ngwenya’s designed something that looks simultaneously nutty and completely feasible: A shape-shifting wheel he’s calling “Roadless.”

“The ‘Why’ of it is pretty simple. Ngwenya grew up in rural Africa, where ‘head-loading’ remains the most practical way to transport goods, as arduous and inefficient as it is. He reckons that a shape-shifting wheel could adapt to different terrains, thus providing a one-size-fits-all solution for load-carrying carts, bikes or vehicles in areas with no infrastructure,” says Core77 at (

With Ngwenya on the scene, more local inventors may soon join him and Kamkwamba in turning the lives of Malawians around, at the same time adding to global invention the ease of rural and marginalized people accessing greater daily livelihood needs.

‘Roadless’: Ackeem Ngwenya’s Amazing All-Terrain Shape-Shifting Wheel Design

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