Wheeled excavators and crawler excavators. Tracked dozers and wheel dozers. Compact track loaders and skid steers. These machine pairings all share common types, cabs and implements, but the applications they are used in, influenced heavily by the terrain which they’ll be operating in, can be very different.
Whether it is equipped with wheels or tracks can drastically change a piece of heavy equipment. But an innovative new technology born out of the U.S. military’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), might one day not just blur the lines between wheeled and tracked machine types, but eliminate the choice between one or the other altogether.
As detailed in a DARPA video posted to YouTube, the Reconfigurable Wheel-Track (RWT) was developed by researchers at the National Robotics Engineering Center at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University as part of DARPA’s Ground X-Vehicle Technology program. These wheels are capable of transforming from wheel to triangular tracks and back again within 2 seconds—all while the vehicle is in motion.
Right now RWTs are still in development and there’s no indication as to how soon these will be seen on the battlefield or the jobsite. But it’s easy to see the benefit to any RWT-equipped vehicle, be it a military truck or a piece of heavy equipment, and having the ability to instantly adapt to hard and soft terrain with wheels and tracks, respectively, for the most efficient travel and maneuverability possible.
You can check the RWTs out in action in the video below at the 2:21 mark.