Military

DARPA demonstrates 6 new technologies behind the agile combat vehicles of tomorrow

The GXV-T program aims to move away from heavy armored vehicles in a quest for battlefield superiority, using some unique ideas
The GXV-T program aims to move away from heavy armored vehicles in a quest for battlefield superiority, using some unique ideas
View 22 Images
The GXV-T program aims to move away from heavy armored vehicles in a quest for battlefield superiority, using some unique ideas
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The GXV-T program aims to move away from heavy armored vehicles in a quest for battlefield superiority, using some unique ideas
Pratt & Miller's Multi-Mode Extreme Suspension is capable of smoothing out steep gradients
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Pratt & Miller's Multi-Mode Extreme Suspension is capable of smoothing out steep gradients
Pratt & Miller's Multi-Mode Extreme Suspension has a short-travel system that handles regular off-road bumps, and an active high-travel system that gives each wheel six feet of vertical freedom in the really gnarly stuff
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Pratt & Miller's Multi-Mode Extreme Suspension has a short-travel system that handles regular off-road bumps, and an active high-travel system that gives each wheel six feet of vertical freedom in the really gnarly stuff
Reconfigurable Wheel Track technology transforms between wheels and tracks in about two seconds
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Reconfigurable Wheel Track technology transforms between wheels and tracks in about two seconds
The hubs rotate in wheel mode, and stay still in track mode
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The hubs rotate in wheel mode, and stay still in track mode
Electric in-hub motor with built-in 3-stage gearing, liquid cooled braking and thermal management
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Electric in-hub motor with built-in 3-stage gearing, liquid cooled braking and thermal management
The V-PANE system generates 3D representations of the surrounding terrain
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The V-PANE system generates 3D representations of the surrounding terrain
Virtual Window system puts the driver in a blacked-out cockpit with VR goggles
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Virtual Window system puts the driver in a blacked-out cockpit with VR goggles
The ORCA system reads the trail ahead, generates optimal routes and can even drive itself if necessary
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The ORCA system reads the trail ahead, generates optimal routes and can even drive itself if necessary
Drivers using the ORCA system navigated off-road courses faster, with almost no vulnerable stops or pauses
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Drivers using the ORCA system navigated off-road courses faster, with almost no vulnerable stops or pauses
The V-PANE system can generate high-level views with vehicle overlays to allow for precise positioning
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The V-PANE system can generate high-level views with vehicle overlays to allow for precise positioning
The GXV-T program aims to move away from heavy armored vehicles in a quest for battlefield superiority, using some unique ideas
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The GXV-T program aims to move away from heavy armored vehicles in a quest for battlefield superiority, using some unique ideas
Pratt & Miller's Multi-Mode Extreme Suspension is capable of smoothing out steep gradients
13/22
Pratt & Miller's Multi-Mode Extreme Suspension is capable of smoothing out steep gradients
Pratt & Miller's Multi-Mode Extreme Suspension has a short-travel system that handles regular off-road bumps, and an active high-travel system that gives each wheel six feet of vertical freedom in the really gnarly stuff
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Pratt & Miller's Multi-Mode Extreme Suspension has a short-travel system that handles regular off-road bumps, and an active high-travel system that gives each wheel six feet of vertical freedom in the really gnarly stuff
Reconfigurable Wheel Track technology transforms between wheels and tracks in about two seconds
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Reconfigurable Wheel Track technology transforms between wheels and tracks in about two seconds
The hubs rotate in wheel mode, and stay still in track mode
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The hubs rotate in wheel mode, and stay still in track mode
Electric in-hub motor with built-in 3-stage gearing, liquid cooled braking and thermal management
17/22
Electric in-hub motor with built-in 3-stage gearing, liquid cooled braking and thermal management
The V-PANE system generates 3D representations of the surrounding terrain
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The V-PANE system generates 3D representations of the surrounding terrain
Virtual Window system puts the driver in a blacked-out cockpit with VR goggles
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Virtual Window system puts the driver in a blacked-out cockpit with VR goggles
The ORCA system reads the trail ahead, generates optimal routes and can even drive itself if necessary
20/22
The ORCA system reads the trail ahead, generates optimal routes and can even drive itself if necessary
Drivers using the ORCA system navigated off-road courses faster, with almost no vulnerable stops or pauses
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Drivers using the ORCA system navigated off-road courses faster, with almost no vulnerable stops or pauses
The V-PANE system can generate high-level views with vehicle overlays to allow for precise positioning
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The V-PANE system can generate high-level views with vehicle overlays to allow for precise positioning

Back in 2014, DARPA announced the launch of its Ground X-Vehicle Technology (GXV-T) program, an initiative designed to break through a single paradigm that has been weighing the military down in ground combat. That paradigm is the ever-escalating vendetta between tanks and anti-tank guns.

Artillery designers keep making bigger anti-tank guns, and in response the tank designers have to load them up with more and more armor, to the point where the M1A2 Abrams (the main battle tank of the US Army) now weighs a staggering 72 tons.

That's nearly twice the weight of a semi-trailer loaded to its maximum legal capacity of 40 tons, and it makes the modern tank a real pain to deal with, from the build, maintenance and deployment, right through to the end use. They're not what you'd call light-footed or agile, and their sheer bulk can damage or destroy roads or bridges that aren't up to the task.

DARPA has thus been working on what comes next: smaller, lighter, more nimble vehicles that have tricks other than massive armor up their sleeve when it comes to surviving on the battlefield.

Last month, the GXV-T program demonstrated some of the remarkable technologies it's been working on. And while they're far from finished, there are some pretty radical ideas in there. Let's take a look:

Reconfigurable Wheel Track (RWT)

The hubs rotate in wheel mode, and stay still in track mode
The hubs rotate in wheel mode, and stay still in track mode

Wheels let you go fast on the road, tracks give you better traction in sand, mud and dirt. So a team from Carnegie Mellon University's National Robotics Engineering Center (CMU NREC) has chipped in with a transforming wheel design that gives you a version of either, at the touch of a button.

In wheel mode, powerful arms in the hub open out to form a circular shape, and the entire rim rotates with the outer grippy track. In track mode, the hub stops dead as it closes down into a triangular shape, and the tread rotates around the hub. The transition takes just two seconds.

Electric In-Hub Motor

Electric in-hub motor with built-in 3-stage gearing, liquid cooled braking and thermal management
Electric in-hub motor with built-in 3-stage gearing, liquid cooled braking and thermal management

Working around the standard military 20-inch rim size, QinetiQ has come up with an electric hub motor fit for combat vehicle use. With all the acceleration, torque and traction benefits of a regular electric motor, the QinetiQ motor adds in three-stage gearing, internal thermal management and a liquid-cooled brake system.

Multi-Mode Extreme Travel Suspension (METS)

The GXV-T program aims to move away from heavy armored vehicles in a quest for battlefield superiority, using some unique ideas
The GXV-T program aims to move away from heavy armored vehicles in a quest for battlefield superiority, using some unique ideas

The goal here is high-speed travel over rough and uneven terrain, and Pratt & Miller's METS system is awesome to watch in action. It uses standard 20-inch rims, mounted to a dual suspension system. A short-travel suspension system gives six inches (15 cm) of regular off-road bump handling, but when the road gets really rough, an active high-travel suspension gives each wheel a whopping six feet (1.8 m) of travel – 42 in (107 cm) upward and 30 in (76 cm) downward from the center point.

In this way, the METS can get around while keeping the cabin upright in some pretty extreme situations. It's a little reminiscent of the Swincar "spider car" from 2015, offering a wildly agile way to get around at speed.

Enhanced 360-degree Awareness with Virtual Windows

Virtual Window system puts the driver in a blacked-out cockpit with VR goggles
Virtual Window system puts the driver in a blacked-out cockpit with VR goggles

Windows are a key point of vulnerability for any military vehicle, so Honeywell International presented a system that eliminates them altogether. The driver sits in the cockpit and views the world outside through near-eye VR goggles that effectively turn the cabin transparent for 360-degree vision. It seems to work; "numerous tests" have seen drivers complete off-road courses in these blacked-out cabins with no appreciable penalty to their course times.

This is of course reminiscent of the "transparent jet plane" concept implemented in the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, which uses a similar VR display and camera array to remove the plane from a pilot's field of vision.

Virtual Perspectives Augmenting Natural Experience (V-PANE)

The V-PANE system generates 3D representations of the surrounding terrain
The V-PANE system generates 3D representations of the surrounding terrain

Continuing with the augmented vision angle, Raytheon BBN Technologies has chipped in with a fascinating vision system that gives drivers the ability to see the world from a range of different perspectives, each generated from a series of video cameras and LiDAR sensors, something like a juiced-up version of the top-down camera view you can now get when parking some high-end cars.

The system creates a real-time 3D model of the car's surroundings, then generates useful visual perspectives from a straight-out-of-the-cabin view, to a high third-person view, to other views augmented with a model of the vehicle to assist with tight technical maneuvers. One would imagine this detailed 3D model would also assist with targeting systems should threats be identified.

Off-Road Crew Augmentation (ORCA)

The ORCA system reads the trail ahead, generates optimal routes and can even drive itself if necessary
The ORCA system reads the trail ahead, generates optimal routes and can even drive itself if necessary

Also from CMU NREC, the ORCA system uses a bunch of cameras and sensors to map out the off-road terrain in front of a vehicle and predict and plan the safest, quickest route through. The system is also capable of taking over and self-driving in an off-road situation, which is no small achievement. Phase 2 testing showed vehicles with the ORCA aids and visual overlays went faster and avoided nearly all pauses, which could expose a team to danger in the battlefield.

All these technologies are still under development, as the GXV-T program looks to identify which can be pushed forward into an operational capacity in the medium term. Check them out in action in a video below.

Source: DARPA

Demonstrations of DARPA's Ground X-Vehicle Technologies

8 comments
Daishi
My thoughts on the morphing wheel is that it's cool science but far too many moving parts and complexity at the end of the day for something that needs to be reliably used and serviced by teenage kids in remote regions of the world. Once rocks and mud ooze inside of the wheel things will get worn out and beat up fast. You have to keep an inventory of replacement parts and fewer parts is better. The METS is sort of interesting.
andrew
I dream of a day when we will no longer have the need to make any more items for war at all.
EZ
To Andrew: That day will never come, as our economy depends on wars to make the people who have all the marbles more marbles. However, the next war might not be fought with war machines, other than the kind that can fit on the end of a rocket.
S Michael
Mr. Daishi is right, equipment needs to be simple. Simple to use and simple to fix, otherwise its junk on the battlefield.
ljaques
Really cool stuff, but not as practical as they could be. I'd hate to pay for a new tire on the reconfigurable. And why aren't the electric motors set up on portal axle hubs like Hummers and Mogs are, for extra ground clearance? The first pic shows the motor clearing maybe 6 inches. Woohoo, 100kw hub motors = 134102.21 horsepower. Not quite sure I buy that. What could power it, an on-vehicle pocket nuke plant? Love the METS.
jd_dunerider
In the picture for Enhanced 360-degree Awareness, that has to be Bubbles from Trailer Park Boys, right? As for the morphing wheel, that looks like a pretty miniscule gain in surface area, with way too many ways for it to go wrong. Pretty neat stuff though!
claudio
@ ljaques: 100kw = 134.102hp
Kpar
ljacques, you have misplaced your decimal a few places- 100kW is about 135 HP. The concept is quite useful- multiple motors could allow continued mobility after battle damage, especially if the crew could remotely raise the damaged hub away from the ground. Daishi is quite correct, but a sealed unit could be devised. There is a LOT of cool stuff here- hopefully some of that tech will filter out to the commercial world.