If you have been following military developments, you would probably know that the military is totally obsessed with tires that could deal with both flat and unforgiving terrains, such as those muddied ground. Until a few years ago, the solutions to this nagging problem was either this or that. So anyways, the present solution was tweaking the tire air pressure when going from on- to off-road and vice versa. But that may change with the collaborative project between Carnegie Mellon University’s National Robotics Engineering Center and DARPA.
The research project, called Reconfigurable Wheel-Track (or RWT), is a transforming wheel that could shape-shifting from a circular wheel into a triangular track. I don’t know if it actually qualifies as a wheel because, there is no pneumatic involved. It basically transitioned from a round track to a triangular. Having said that, the comfort level is, well, questionable, given that it does not have air to act as cushion against bumps. Then again, this is the military we are talking about and for military applications, going anywhere is more important than human comfort.
According to the official video released by DARPA, the RWT can transition from round wheel to triangular track in matter of seconds (or 2 seconds, to be exact) even when the vehicle is in motion. Traction is provided by ribbed track that mimics the track on tanks, except that RWT is of rubber. The track appears almost like a cross between an excavator’s and a tank.
The wheel itself is composed of segmented components that looks like calipers. Each wheel has six of these “calipers” and two are linked to form a set. By adjusting the angle of each pair simultaneously, the wheel can swiftly transform from circular to triangular and vice versa. I have to admit that the idea is very clever. Now, it is the question of robustness and also, comfort. I guess the latter could be compensated with better suspension.
Source and animated GIF: Yanko Design.