So when the people at DARPA say they’ve got a better wheel, we’re inclined to give them a listen. After all, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, doesn’t just have the Internet on its resume. The technology behind GPS, hyperlinks, Siri, Google Maps and Windows – they had the first versions of all that too.
And actually, it looks like they’ve come up with Wheel 2.0 now too (working with the Robotic Engineering Center at Carnegie Mellon University).
It’s a round wheel, like the wheels we’ve known for centuries. And it’s a triangular tread or track – like what you’d find on a tank.
Driving your Humvee down a highway – wheel mode. Going off-road over rough terrain – switch to track. Making that transformation is remarkable enough. Even more – this happens on the fly, while you are driving. (Take that, 4-wheel drive.)
Yeah. That’s it.
And that’s not all DARPA is up to, when it comes to tinkering with a soldier’s ride. Also getting a try out – two versions of a windowless vehicle, using video and LIDAR outside; 3-D goggles, multiple screens and software inside – to allow driving without “seeing’ (eliminating vulnerable windows) – and even a version that can calculate the best route in a given situation, and drive itself off-road if necessary. And there’s hydraulics too: a suspension system, that lets a vehicle stay level, even driving across a steep slope (by jacking up the body of the vehicle on the downhill side).
You can see a little of all that, in this DARPA video.
Now in the end, some of these innovations may never get off the test track. Some of them may go no farther than the battleground (though if they keep our servicemen and women safer, that’s certainly reason enough). So we may never see these in the car of the future that we are driving. But you never know where DARPA’s work turn up. Just ask Siri.
(And do we need to say it? Well, just in case: these Army vehicles, whether they run on wheels or treads – or both! – like most of the cars and trucks the rest of us drive – what keeps them moving are gasoline and diesel, the fuels we make from petroleum.)