The Military Reinvented the Wheel, They're Triangles Now

A new wheel that Carnegie Mellon scientists developed for DARPA adapts to its environment.

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Jun 25 2018, 3:00pm

Screengrab: YouTube

Twenty inch rims are cool, but 20 inch rims that shapeshift to conquer any environment are next level. Magic wheels that look like a Transformer doing its thing are a new innovation from the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

DARPA is a military research agency that spends time and money on blue-sky projects like creepy robots, genetically modified dolphins, and, once upon a time, the internet. Its Ground X-Vehicle Technologies program is a project that, like many of DARPA’s projects, involves academic and corporate teams working towards the same goal: in this case, improving the mobility and survivability of ground combat vehicles.

In a recent demonstration, researchers at the Carnegie Mellon University National Robotics Engineering Center demonstrated a round wheel that transforms into a tank-style triangular tread that would allow it to traverse harsh terrain. A team from automotive company Pratt & Miller (famous for its Corvette race cars) showed off a new suspension system that adapts to harsh terrain without bringing discomfort to the vehicle’s passengers.

British defense firm QinetiQ showed off a system where each wheel of a vehicle has its own built-in motor. “Putting motors directly inside the wheels offers numerous potential benefits for combat vehicles, such as heightened acceleration and maneuverability with optimal torque, traction, power, and speed over rough or smooth terrain,” DARPA explained in a press release.

Some of DARPA’s inventions eventually end up on the civilian market, but it’s too early to tell if we’ll ever seen these transforming tires on the road alongside truck nuts.

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