THEY SET OUT TO DEVELOP a cheap, durable bicycle for Third World transportation. But inventors in Victoria, B.C., came up with something far more significant: a greaseless replacement for ball bearings and roller bearings for everything from power drills to car wheels. Interactive Design Studios (IDS) expects to receive a U.S. patent for the device, known as a scroller roller band, and is pitching it to all of the world's biggest bearing companies.
The scroller roller band operates by surrounding a central rolling shaft or axle with three or more counter-rotating rollers. A band of spring steel or some other sturdy substance is wrapped between and around the rollers (illustration). There's almost no friction because the parts don't slide against each other or the band. Instead, as the shaft turns, it comes in and out of contact with different portions of the undulating band. IDS director Erik Brinkman says one Japanese bearing maker interested in licensing the band tested it at a swift 22,000 revolutions per minute with good results. Meanwhile, the bicycle project lives: By making one of the rollers into a coil that expands in diameter when it spins faster, the scroller roller becomes an infinitely adjustable speed changer, says Brinkman.