The best shape for a wheel is round...except when it isn't. In some cases, a vehicle will be able to operate more efficiently if its running on a set of tracks.
A handful of companies offer seemingly easy solutions to switch between the two types of setups, but DARPA just negated the need for separate wheels or tracks with a completely new wheel concept. It's called the Reconfigurable Wheel Track, and it could be the future of advanced mobility for the military.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency works on all of the amazing future tech for various military needs. This includes laser defense systems, unmanned aerial support units, and remote controlled insects. The list is long and we'd need mental clearance above what even Engineering Explained could provide. One of the current projects being developed by DARPA is the RWT. It's a wheel that reconfigures itself while on the go.
A set of RWT hubs and wheels have been connected to a military Hummer in order to provide a proof of concept. While in the standard round mode, the RWT system works as if it were a regular set of wheels and tires. This is good for quickly maneuvering over stable ground or on the road. If the traction and terrain become a bit trickier, then the RWT turns itself into a set of treaded tracks. This greatly improves the available traction on loose surfaces or more extreme terrain.
Even more amazing is that the change between round wheel and triangular tank tread happens in about two seconds while the vehicle is underway. You can be running on the fly and reconfigure your wheels for the terrain or course ahead of you. In the video above, the RWT action starts at the 2:21 mark. But you should stick around and check out some of the other mobility-based programs that DARPA is currently exploring.
We look forward to seeing this program on a Jeep at SEMA in 10 years.