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I’ve developed a basic robot that navigates around my son’s Duplo train track. It works find on the flat parts, but once it reached an incline at the start of a bridge, the wheels just spin and the robot stays at the bottom of the incline.

I’ve 3D printed most of the parts using PLA for everything, but printed tyres using TPU. The tyres definitely help, as the wheels were originally spinning even on the flat. Moving the batteries (2xAA) to sit over the drive axle also helped.

What else can I do to increase the traction and give my robot a chance of making it up the hill?

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Two seemingly contradictory approaches come to mind. One is to increase the friction between the wheels and the track. You can do this by coating the tires with a soft material, such as a gasket or brush-on rubber compound. This approach also benefits if you can increase the surface area of the tire that touches the track. Increasing the radius of the tires can help with this, as can widening them up to the width of the track. Adding weight to the robot will also linearly increase the force of friction between the tires and the track.

A second approach is to attempt to get positive engagement between the tire and the track instead of relying on friction. This would work if you can add teeth to your track and corresponding teeth to the wheels. The downside of this approach is that the tires will not roll as smoothly on flat tracks.

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  • $\begingroup$ I've tried widening the tyres, but hadn't considered increasing the radius - thanks, I'll give that a whirl. $\endgroup$ – littlecharva Jan 9 '18 at 15:41
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In addition to SteveO's approaches you could try to change the center of gravity in a way, that the mass of the robot is pushing more downwards onto the wheels when it goes uphill instead of more and more draging it in vertical direction. This means: Adding some more mass directly above driving wheels and/or using the rear wheels for driving the robot, might help. Also implementing an all-wheel-drive might be beneficial.

Another idea is to use a tire profile, instead of "slicks". But, this is intuitive and might even worse the issues if the track itself is flat and even.

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  • $\begingroup$ Shifting the weight is a great idea, I'll try moving the batteries forward so they push directly down on the wheels when going up the incline. Thanks! $\endgroup$ – littlecharva Jan 9 '18 at 15:43
  • $\begingroup$ You're welcome! Let me know the results! $\endgroup$ – SDwarfs Jan 9 '18 at 15:55
  • $\begingroup$ Will do. Might be a little while though. $\endgroup$ – littlecharva Jan 10 '18 at 17:01
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Quickest solution is to just roughen the surface of the track using sand paper.

But if you are talking about a modification to the robot itself, you can use different type of material for the tyre. PU has many grades.

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  • $\begingroup$ The track is also 3D printed, so it's kinda already rough. I was more thinking about changes to the robot itself. Is there anything I could change about the design of the tyres or wheels to generate more traction? $\endgroup$ – littlecharva Jan 8 '18 at 14:05
  • $\begingroup$ I am curious if you can incorporate bristles or fibrillar structures on the wheel surface and 3d print it. I would be interested to know the results. $\endgroup$ – goddar Jan 10 '18 at 9:43
  • $\begingroup$ I'll give it a try and let you know. $\endgroup$ – littlecharva Jan 10 '18 at 17:01

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