The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is revolutionizing how military ground vehicles move across roads and rough terrains with its latest breakthrough.
DARPA's Shape-Shifting Wheels
DARPA showed off some new Transformers-inspired defense vehicle tech that is not only futuristic but also incredibly practical for military ground vehicles.
The agency teamed up with Carnegie Mellon University's National Robotics Engineering Center to develop tires that have the ability to transform into triangular tracks within a matter of seconds and the vehicle doesn't even need to be stationary.
While wheels are more suitable for driving on roads and hard surfaces, tracks are ideal for off-road terrains such as sand, mud, and snow. DARPA takes care of this problem with its new tech, officially called the Reconfigurable Wheel Track.
The agency demonstrated the RWT in a video that shows a military Humvee seamlessly changing from wheels to tracks while in motion, allowing the vehicle to adapt as the terrain changes. The round wheel transforms into a pyramid-shaped track that increases surface contact with the terrain, lowers the vehicle's ground pressure and improves traction.
The applications of this technology are endless. While it would be incredibly helpful for armored military vehicles that need to cover a lot of ground within a short span of time, it can also be used for search and rescue operations, construction, or any other field where the terrain is a mix of flat roads and uneven surfaces.
Ground X-Vehicle Technologies Program
The RWT project was one of many projects demonstrated under DARPA's Ground X-Vehicle Technologies program, which aims to improve mobility, survivability, and effectiveness of future combat vehicles through means other than adding more armor.
"For mobility, we've taken a radically different approach by avoiding armor and developing options to move quickly and be agile over all terrain," explained GXV-T Program Manager, Maj. Amber Walker.
In addition to the RWT, DARPA also unveiled a Multi-mode Extreme Travel Suspension system developed by motorsports engineering company Pratt & Miller. The METS system adjusts the vehicle's suspension to drive over harsh terrain without causing discomfort to the passengers. The agency also revealed an Electric In-Hub Motor, which improves the speed and maneuverability of the vehicle.
DARPA is also working on technology that aims to increase the drivers' awareness, such as virtual windows that are enabled with 3D goggles, sensor-enhanced virtual perspectives, and visual overlays that help find the quickest, safest route for off-road trips.