DARPA, the mad science lab of the Defense Department, is giving a look into what successes the future vehicle program has pulled off, and it has demonstrators for everything from 6-foot suspensions to windowless cockpits to automated driving if an operator is hit or absent.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is known for its baller tech, from helping to invent the internet and Google Maps to developing artificial intelligence and drone swarms. For the last few years, they've been looking into how to make vehicles safer in combat without strapping ever-increasing amounts of armor to it.
The Ground X-Vehicle Technologies (GXV-T) Program is largely complete, and it's archived on DARPA's website. Most of the tech has proven itself in the lab and testing, but now some will—and some won't—get deployed to units over the next few years.
One of the more exciting and groundbreaking technologies is the Multi-mode Extreme Travel Suspension. This equips vehicles with a suspension that can raise wheels 30 inches or drop them 42 inches, and each tire is controlled separately. That means that a vehicle can drive with an even cab, even when the slope is so great that the wheels are separate in height by six feet. It also means that the vehicles can get to hard-to-reach places quickly.
Other tech breakthroughs looking to increase off-road mobility included the Electric In-Hub Motor—which crams an entire electric motor with a three-speed gearbox and cooling into a standard 20-inch rim—and the Reconfigurable Wheel-Track which can roll like a normal tire or turn into a triangular track that works like a mini-tank tread.
But there are also breakthroughs focused on getting rid of windows and making crews able to move faster and more safely. The Virtual Perspective Augmenting Natural Experience program allowed vehicle crew members to drive a windowless RV with better visibility than a normal driver. Not only can they see what would be visible from the vehicle thanks to LIDAR, but they could also "see" the environment from a remote perspective.
Basically, they could be their own ground guide.
The Off-Road Crew Augmentation program, meanwhile, draws an estimated safest path for drivers moving off-road, and it can do so with no windows facing out. That means vehicle designers can create a next-gen vehicle with no windows, historically a weak spot in the armor. Ultraviolet light from the sun slowly breaks down ballistic glass, so "bulletproof" windows aren't really bulletproof and will eventually expire.
All of the major breakthroughs were part of research partnerships or contracts with different manufacturers, and it remains to be seen whether the military branches will request prototype vehicles that use the tech. But there's a chance that your next ride, after the current iteration of the JLTV, will be something a little more exotic.
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