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DARPA’S WHEELS CAN TRANSFORM INTO TRACKS WHILE ON THE MOVE

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DARPA’S WHEELS CAN TRANSFORM INTO TRACKS WHILE ON THE MOVE

Configurable triangular wheel hub shows promise for varied terrain

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has come up with its share of amazing tech over the years — the internet, for instance — but now the agency wants to see if it can reinvent the wheel.

DARPA’s Reconfigurable Wheel Track, aka RWT, promises just such a thing, giving vehicles the ability to transform a round wheel into an triangular track for greater traction when the terrain demands it, such as when traveling over snow, ice or serious mud.

“A team from Carnegie Mellon University National Robotics Engineering Center demonstrated shape-shifting wheel-track mechanisms that transition from a round wheel to a triangular track and back again while the vehicle is on the move, for instant improvements to tactical mobility and maneuverability on diverse terrains,” DARPA said.

As you can see in the video above, the conversion process takes two seconds as articulated “spokes” within the wheel housing pivot to give the hub a triangular profile, maximizing the percentage of the rubber track that is in contact with the road surface. The spokes can then revert back to give the track a round profile, and the hub can change from a stationary position required for tracked travel to a rotating one.

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The advantages of this design are pretty obvious, despite a high part count and complexity, but we were equally impressed with the Multi-mode Extreme Travel Suspension shown later in the video.

“Pratt & Miller’s METS system aims to enable high-speed travel over rough terrain while keeping the vehicle upright and minimizing occupant discomfort,” DARPA said. “The vehicle demonstrator incorporates standard military 20-inch wheels, advanced short-travel suspension of 4 to 6 inches, and a novel high-travel suspension that extends up to 6 feet — 42 inches upward and 30 inches downward. The demonstration in May showed off its ability to tackle steep slopes and grades by actively and independently adjusting the hydraulic suspension on each wheel of the vehicle.”

We can certainly see both technologies transforming the Baja and Dakar races, were the sanctioning bodies to permit it (which they won’t, due to homologation rules).

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