Wheels that Turn into Triangles

A reconfigurable wheel-track from Carnegie Mellon researchers can shape-shift in seconds as the vehicle moves from hard to soft terrains.

The Ground X-Vehicle Technologies (GXV-T) program from DARPA's Tactical Technology office is working on creating the combat vehicle of the future. The idea is to make the vehicles safer and more mobile without simply adding more armor.

In May, DARPA held demonstrations at the Aberdeen Test Center to see what its partners have come up with. The most interesting concepts ditched the windows, and one even reinvented the wheel.  

Combat vehicles typically have limited visibility out of small windows to maximize soldier protection. So some teams defenestrated the windows all together and moved to multiple sensor and camera technologies.

Honeywell's windowless cockpit uses 3D goggles, a head tracker and active window display screens that project real-time views of the terrain onto the opaque walls. It kind of works like a VR rig, although Honeywell has found a way to keep drivers from getting nauseous. In tests, drivers almost performed as well as drivers with full visibility. 

Raytheon BBN created the V-Pane, or virtual pane, which was similar — no windows, but sensors and cameras to create a 3D model that the driver uses to maneuver.

Of the many tech demonstrations, which I highly recommend checking out below, I was impressed by Pratt & Miller's extreme travel suspension system that can extend six feet high while navigating steep slopes. But the show-stopper was the reconfigurable wheel-track from a team out of Carnegie Mellon.

The wheels can actually shape-shift in two seconds while the vehicle is in motion. The change occurs as the vehicle moves from hard to soft terrains.

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