DARPA’s new defense vehicle can seamlessly transition between a round wheel shape and a triangular track in just 2 seconds

The military has just reinvented the most ancient of all mobility devices: the wheel. In an eye-popping article in Tech Crunch, military researchers unveiled a new wheel-track that takes just a heartbeat or so to transform from the round shape of a traditional wheel to a triangular track like the ones that support a tank.

The new wheel is part of the Ground X-Vehicle Technologies program of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The objective of the program is to increase the protection of future ground combat vehicles without adding extra armor that will make it heavier, slower, easier to hit, and more costly to manufacture.

Developed by the National Robotics Engineering Center (NREC) of the Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), the track can transform from a round wheel to a triangle-shaped track and back in just a couple of seconds.

Round shapes are able to get a grip on firm terrains such as roads and paved surfaces. They also generally do less damage to expensive surfaces.

Tracked treads, on the other hand, distribute the weight more evenly across its surface area. Treads allow a heavy vehicle to cross softer ground without sinking into the soil or sand due to its weight.

The wheel-track can shift between its two modes while the vehicle is running at high speed. The vehicle does not need to slow down as the track handles the transition automatically. (Related: ROBO-WARS: DARPA wants to deploy automated drones as coordinated swarms to “isolate an urban objective”.)

Transforming wheel-track can allow vehicles to cross almost any terrain without stopping

Transforming wheels might not sound as ground-breaking as, say, transforming robots or flying cars. But the aptly-named Major Amber Walker – who manages the Ground X-Vehicle Program – stressed that it offered a major advantage to U.S. soldiers and Marines.

The NREC-designed wheel-track will allow a vehicle to instantly adapt to different kinds of terrain, said Walker. Vehicles equipped with these devices will retain their mobility and maneuverability even if the terrain suddenly shifts.

The goals of the Ground-X Vehicle program include cutting down the size and weight of ground vehicles by half and reducing the required crew by that much. It also wants to double the movement speed of a vehicle and make it capable of crossing 95 percent of the terrain found in the world.

Last but not least, the vehicle must also be able to hide better from enemies that would want to ambush and destroy it. This requirement involves stealth technologies.

DARPA recently released a video that showcased the capabilities of its prototype technologies. The reconfigurable wheel-track is one of the many defense vehicle devices featured in the presentation.

Virtual reality systems can remove the need for windows on future vehicles

The other DARPA designs in the video merit brief mentions. One prototype is the Virtual Perspectives Augmenting Natural Experiences (V-PANE). It is a virtual navigation technology that dispenses with the need for vulnerable windows that can be broken or penetrated by enemy fire.

The demonstration vehicle was covered in LIDAR and video cameras. The video feedback from these myriad sensors is processed by V-PANE’s powerful computers to create a virtual replica of the surroundings of the window-less vehicle.

A similar window-less cockpit concept involves “virtual windows” around the user. The driver is surrounded by a wraparound screen that projects real-time data of the environment around the vehicle.

To improve his depth perception, the driver wears 3D goggles. The VR system can also track the motions of his head and respond appropriately.

Learn about the increasingly realistic replicas of real life at VirtualReality.news.

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