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Has anyone ever created a full-sized windup (clockwork-powered) car? Answered

I understand that it would be a monumental undertaking for most of us here, but still I was wondering if anyone on the high-school engineering level or higher has ever attempted to build a vehicle that could carry a minimum of two people sitting side by side, travel for 50 miles at a speed of 35-40 mph over undulating terrain? How practical would this be? How big or heavy would it be? How would you go about rewinding the mainspring so that you're not tiring yourself or your teammates out AND not contributing too much to the current pollution levels?

If someone has attempted this, have you posted your results? I would love to see them.



Best Answer 6 years ago

Leonardo da Vinci designed a self propelled vehicle using a clockwork type mainspring about 550 years ago. You can see his drawings online.

da Vinci.jpg

just watch something on tv on this an Australian guy invented one years ago and a some guys from the USA bought the patent and just shelved it going by what I seen on tv it didn't go slow ether

Ok, new question, do we have any instructables on this site on MAKING clock gears and arrangements? I found a couple of kids books at the library but nothing on a college level.

Well where does the energy come from? You still have to wind it. May as well just pedal right?

I wonder if anyone has explored the idea of a spinning weight as a start assist via inertia on a pedal powered vehicle.
Wouldnt that keep the input energy more even? You could go faster & farther with a more focused power band right?
That would certainly help if you were going to do wind up too.

I like thinking about this... :)

They tried using flywheels for storing and releasing energy. In a stationary application they can work pretty good. In a moving application there are a lot of problems. The inertia of the flywheel has to be overcome in order to move a vehicle but even more important is the angular momentum. Its the idea behind a gyroscope. The spinning mass will resist any change in its direction of movement. Trying to steer a vehicle with a rotating flywheel in it is not going to work. It will tend to continue in a straight line and you can kiss your tires goodbye pretty fast.

I just had an interesting thought about this. You see them doing these car jumps in the movies which most of us know are not possible in real life driving. The cars do not remain parallel to the ground but usually nose dive into the pavement. If you put a large flywheel in a car with it rotating parallel to the pavement then it would keep the car from diving in a jump. It would keep it parallel to the pavement, so all you have to deal with then is the tires exploding when it lands and the undercarriage collapsing. But at least it would still be in line with the pavement, just pancaked.

The problem with the pedal power solution is that the original requirment I laid down was that it had to be practical and I don't see your average person getting something like this, a fitness or environmental nut maybe... An electric flywheel has a good potential.


6 years ago

Things that work in a small scale often do not work on a large scale. (And vise versa) It is in large part due to the square-cube law. What that says in a very simple explanation is that the surface area of something increases by the square while the volume (and therefore weight or mass) increases by the cube. As an example, a tiny water droplet will remain very close to a sphere and can hold together with the surface tension of the water. But as you make the drop bigger it starts to flatten out and past a certain point it will disintegrate into smaller drops.

The ability to store energy in a spring will go down as the spring gets larger because the springs mass increases faster than its ability to store energy which is partly dependent on its surface area. The larger it becomes the less efficient it becomes and overcoming its mass will eventually take up almost all its stored energy. So, what works great as a kids toy doesn't work in large scale. The energy requirements become greater much faster than the scale of the model does.

For a more in depth discussion of the square-cube law see this article.


How would you wind it? It would take roughly the same amount of energy as if a person was peddling it the same distance.

There was a "Full size wind-up toy car" posted on YouTube (but I suspect its more of a cosmetic joke)...

Then there was an article posted a number of years ago, proposing the same idea, but I'm not sure that they've explored it further.

Over here, our Engineering students are famous for their pranks (like putting cars on top of local bridges)... There's links to many videos, images etc from UBC Engineering.

Yeah, I saw that video when I was perusing youtube in search of inspiration. It is a prank. I was thinking more along the lines of something practical yet with enough time and energy make it look like it would belong in a Steampunk convention.

various clockwork cars were made as demonstrations as were cars driven by wound up elastic bands.

To do something like that, you'd have to start with a bare chassis, and have an extremely lightweight body. The mechanics of the design for the wind-up portion would need to be a little different from the regular wind-up mechanisms, so that a) it wasn't too stiff to turn b) the mechanism didn't start un-winding like most toy cars, until you wanted it to, and then you'd still have to have a steering and braking mechanism. It's a cool concept, that could be done if you had the means to do so, and with a lot of pre-planning. Maybe the way to go (from the start), is with a go-kart chassis, and work through all the difficulties before tackling a full size car?