DARPA’s Reconfigurable Wheel-Track system addresses a question that has plagued American football since its beginning—is it better to be big and strong, or quick and agile. DARPA decided to go with quick and agile when it came to how they would enhance the survivability of drivers and crews in their combat vehicle designs. Rather than adding more and more layers of armor, DARPA is increasing mobility and agility in the hopes that survivability will also improve. Although there’s a strong argument for having more armor, being able to move quickly and be agile regardless of the terrain is also a strong argument.
The new GXV-T highlights many of the advances DARPA has been working on, including electric in-hub motors and multi-mode extreme travel suspension. Another promising innovation is the Reconfigurable Wheel-Track (RWT). The RWT looks to combine the benefits of wheels and tracks. Wheels allow for faster travel on hard surfaces than tracks do, but on soft surfaces the tracks outshine wheels. A team from Carnegie Mellon University National Robotics Engineering Center innovated a way to combine the two benefits into one wheel by creating a shape-shifting wheel-track mechanism. On hard surfaces, the track morphs into a round wheel that can hit the high speeds needed, while on soft surfaces, the track transforms back into a triangular track. Most impressive, these changes can happen in transit—there’s no need to stop and switch, making instant improvements in tactical situations possible without losing maneuverability.