We all know the military has some cool vehicles, the most notorious of which in the HMMWV. The HMMWV is now being phased out by the Oshkosh JLTV, but the military relies on a wide array of vehicles and is constantly pushing for new technologies. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, also known as DARPA, is responsible for research and development of new technologies that may be useful to the military. And thanks to a YouTube video put out by DARPA, we get a closer look at some of the new technologies they are testing.
One of the cool technologies was the Off-Road Crew Augmentation (ORCA) system by Carnegie Mellon University, National Robotics Engineering Center. This system provides a real-time image of what’s in front of the vehicle with a real-time path of the trail and where the vehicle will go based on how the wheel is turned in a corner. As you can imagine, having such high-level driver assistance can not only help drivers escape possible threats, but also do so if the driver cannot, helping to ensure the safety of the crew inside. Of course, a system which can help plan the safest and fastest route in real-time could also be used in off-road racing, but it will probably be a while until we see that kind of technology emerge.
The National Robotics Engineering Center also brought forth the Reconfigurable Wheel-Track (RWT) system, which you may have seen floating around on the internet when it went viral. It’s well-known that wheels are great for high-speed travel and that tracks are great for low-speed travel on any terrain, especially soft terrain where a standard wheel will begin spinning. What the team at NREC did is combine the best of both worlds into one system.
The wheel’s tread can be locked to the speed of the wheel when it’s in a round shape, acting as a standard tire. Alternately, the tread can rotate separately when the wheel changes into a triangle shape, making it a continuous tread like a tank. Just being able to change from a wheel to a track by itself is incredibly impressive; but being able to do so in two seconds while the vehicle is still moving is even more impressive.
There were a few other systems shown off in the YouTube video, but the ORCA system and the RWT system are by far the most interesting and could have a place in the normal world of off-roading one day.