Man’s life has never been the same since the first caveman placed a log on the ground and saw it makes moving loads easier when placed over it. That idea has remained pretty much the same, with the only thing changing is where it is being used.
Well, it is time that idea changed. There is a group of researchers that have come up with a shape-shifting wheel. A wheel that transforms into rectangular-shaped tracks when needed, and then changes back a circular wheel; all at the push of a button.
As it works out, when changed into tracks, the wheels give the vehicle more stability especially when driving down a hill, and trying to find the safest route. The researchers say this wheel could change our expectation of the terrain vehicles can drive through.
The researchers from the Carnegie Mellon University’s National Robotics Engineering Center were funded by U.S.’ Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA). The researchers partnered with DARPA under the program dubbed Ground X-Vehicle Technologies (GXV-T).
Enabling the driver to drive at high speed on roads, and continue driving through diverse off-road terrain using the tracks.
During testing, the vehicle equipped with these re-invented wheels changed from wheel mode to track mode at speeds of 12 mph, and the reverse in 25 mph. While in wheel mode, the vehicle achieved speeds of 50 mph, while in track mode it moved at 30 mph.
“This shape-changing locomotion technology could enable vehicle to tackle a wide array of terrains at surprising speed,” said Dimi Apostolopoulos, a CMU Robotics Institute senior systems scientist who led the project at NREC.
“Based on the testing we’ve done so far, we would expect such a vehicle to do amazing things.”
The end goal of re-inventing the wheel is to make military vehicles highly maneuverable during a combat situation, thus less reliance on armor since they can quickly get out of danger.
How does the Track Wheels functions
The researches say the transforming wheels work by changing the surface area of the tyre in contact with the ground based on the terrain. When on a smooth surface, it reduces the surface area of the contact patch and thus able to achieve higher speeds.
When the terrain changes and becomes unfavorable (off road) the wheel increases the surface area of the contact patch for maximum traction. It then works like a snowshoe and thus the vehicle is able to move over soft grounds (soft soil, ground filled with snow) much more effectively than on a spinning circular wheel.
The researchers also see a wide array of application in the general civilian population. They identified vehicles used in forestry, construction, mining, and heavy equipment as potential candidates to benefit from this technology.
This group of researchers is definitely not the first to reinvent the wheel. However, they are the first one to come up with a prototype that don’t require the driver to first stop the vehicle before shifting the wheels from one mode to another. That feature can be critical especially during combat situation where the driver always need fast maneuverability.