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The diagram below outlines the important geometry in determining the motions of

the steer wheels in a vehicle that uses Ackerman steering geometry. Ackerman is an

interesting problem because it is dynamic. That is to say that we have two components

moving together the left and right steering knuckles, but the relationship between their

motions changes as we move them. This is a real head scratcher. Its a bit like having a

bowling ball in a dark room and throwing other bowling balls in an attempt to locate it by

listening for an impact. Every time you find the ball by crashing into it, it moves and

again dont know where it is.

D

C

King Pin Center to Center Distance

Ackerman Angle

B

A

RAA

Wheel Base

Luckily we have some mathematical voodoo that can help us figure it out. Lets

look at the important distances and angles. The two most fundamental distances are the

wheel base of the car and the kingpin center to center distance. If we draw two lines

representing the wheelbase and the distance from the cars center line to one of the king

pins, we can make a triangle. By design, the line that goes through the centers of the

Ackerman arm forms the hypotenuse of this triangle. See below.

Note that the

angle with its

vertex at A is

90 degrees by

design, unless

the vehicle has

2

been crashed.

If this angle

experiences an

unplanned C

adjustment due Ackerman

to an impact, Angle

the car will dog

track. This can

be checked

using a tape

measure and B

A

comparing

distances from

side to side. Also note that the line that forms the Ackerman angle with the hypotenuse is

parallel with the thrust line, again by definition. Because of this, we can say that angle B

and the Ackerman angle are similar, so if we know one, we know the other. But angle B

isnt too hard to come up with. Recall that the tangent function gives the ratio between

the opposite side and the adjacent side of the triangle. So

Wheelbase

The problem is that we know the distances and are trying to find angle B. We need the

inverse function ARCTAN. Rearranging, we get:

Wheelbase

We can pick distances, turn the crank and find Angle B and by extension, the Ackerman

Angle. For example, lets choose a wheel base of 72 and a king pin to king pin distance

of 36. The formula would look as follows:

ARCTAN 36 / 2 = Angle B

72

ARCTAN (.25) = 14.036

So, the Ackerman Angle is 14.036 degrees. We can use this to find the length of the tie

rod.

D

C

King Pin Center to Center Distance

14.036

B

A

To find the length of the tie rod, we can decompose the trapezoid ABCD into a rectangle

and two triangles.

RAA

Wheel Base

D

C

B

Y

14.036

B

A

If you think logically about the diagram above, the length of the tie rod (segment BC in

the drawing) is equal to the king pin to king pin center distance minus distance Y on each

side. So, what is distance Y? To find out, you have to pick an Ackerman Arm Radius.

You may choose this by purchasing a standard Ackerman arm out of a catalog, or you

may design your own. Either way, it is what we might refer to as a drawing board

problem, meaning that basically this is a parameter that the engineer chooses by his gut.

Lets pick 6 to make life easy. So, how long is distance Y? Well, recall that the SIN of

an angle is the ratio between the side opposite the angle and the hypotenuse. In

shorthand it looks as follows.

As you know, the name of the game in Algebra is getting the variable by itself, so

6 * SIN 14.036 = Y

You can look SIN 14.036 up in a table, or punch it up on a calculator, giving you:

6 * .243 = Y

1.445 = Y

So, the tie rod is 1.445 inches shorter on the bottom and 1.445 inches shorter on the top

than the kingpin center to center distance. Expressed mathematically:

Where:

DKC is the distance between king pins center to center

RAA is the radius of the Ackerman Arm

LT = 36 2*6*SIN 14.036

Looking up the SIN value

LT = 36 2*6*.243

LT = 33.084 D

C

So, for a car configured as this one is, the tie rod needs to be 33.084 from Something

the center of one rod end to the center of the other. less than 20

Weve figured out all of the static values. Now the real fun begins.

Lets contemplate a turn as diagrammed in red to the right. Suppose that

the Ackerman arm labeled AB steers 20 degrees to the left as shown. What

angle does the other Ackerman arm transect? You might think 20 degrees,

but this would result in the steering wheels being parallel in a turn, which

B

A

20

would be unsatisfactory as we discussed in the previous packet. In reality, because the

car pictured is turning to the left, the right Ackerman arm (CD) needs to steer something

less than 20 degrees. But how much less?

This becomes a moving target. I tried a lot of high flutin mathematical tricks

until I discovered a rather straightforward way to attack this. Let us consider a line

drawn diagonally from point D to B. This creates three

angles that add together to give the angle of the wheel that

pivots at point D. Well call the first angle K, the second

D angle (pronounced gamma), and the third angle is of course,

C AA

the Ackerman angle.

Now we can set to work on determining each. If you

think about angle k, we can determine it because for any steer

k angle, we know the positions of the ends of the diagonal line.

If we assigned point A the coordinate of 0,0 then point D

would have the coordinates Kingpin Center to Center

Distance,0. In the our case specifically point Ds coordinates

would be 36,0. Point Bs coordinates take a little bit more

elbow grease to find. We can calculate its locations with the

following formulae:

B

A

Point Bs X coordinate = RAA * COS(AA + SAL)

Where:

RAA is the Ackerman Arm Radius

AA is the Ackerman Angle

SAL is the steering angle of the left wheel. Zero degrees is straight ahead.

Positive values are a left turn, negative values are a right turn.

D

Plugging in our numbers for a 20 left turn

AA

D Point Bs X coordinate = 4.972

C

k So, the coordinates of Point B at a 20 left turn are

4.972,3.358. We can project straight to the left of point B

and straight up from point A to create a new point called

point E. Because we projected straight left and straight up,

4.972

E

3.358

B

A

the angle at E is by definition 90. Also, because point E falls on segment AD, we can

calculate distance DE with the formula:

DE = AD AE

DE = 36 3.358

DE = 32.642

Now that we know EB and ED, we can find the length of BD because it is a hypotenuse

of the triangle formed. Using Pythagorean Theorem:

BD = (EB2 + (DE)2

BD = (32.642)2 + (4.972)2

BD = 33.019

Furthermore, because we know the sides of the triangle we can determine angle k in the

following manner:

TAN k = EB/ED

Of course, were trying to find k, so lets get that by itself by taking the ARCTAN

ARCTAN (EB/ED) = k

AA

ARCTAN (4.972/32.642) = k C

D

Some mathematical acrobatics and

8.661 = k

k

So now that we know angle k and the Ackerman angle, the problem is two

thirds licked. All we have left is to find angle (pronounced gamma). Note

that is included in triangle BDC. Lets think about what we know about

4.972

E B

3.358

A

this triangle. We know that side DC is the length of the Ackerman arm, which we chose

to be 6. We know that side CB is the length of the tie rod, which we calculated earlier to

be 33.084. Finally, we know the distance BD, which we determined using Pathagorean

Theorem to be 33.019. So we have a triangle and we know the lengths of each of the

three sides.

Luckily, there is a somewhat abstract relationship between the sides of non-right

triangles called law of cosines. It can be expressed a number of ways, but we will use

the permutation shown below.

COS = A2 + B2 C2

2AB

Per usual, we are trying to get the thing we dont know by itself, so well need to beat this

up a little bit to make it useful. Rearranging gives:

ARCCOS A2 + B2 C2 =

2AB

2(33.019)(6)

85.411 =

Now if we add up angle k, and the Ackerman angle, well have the tires steer angle

from the line that connects the two kingpins. To get the steer angle, we have to subtract

90. The formula is:

As with any engineering math, we must ask if this is a reasonable number. Lets think

about it. The car is executing a left turn. The left front wheel is steered 20 to the left.

The right wheel is tracing a larger arc, and therefore should have a lesser steer angle. In

short the left side steering angle is 20 and the right side should be something less than

20. Weve passed that test. Additionally, experience on real cars on the alignment rack

indicates that these numbers are reasonable. Attached you will find an Excel file that will

do the heavy lifting for you.

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