Wheels are faster on hard surfaces, while a tracked design performs better on soft ground. So rather than pushing a ground combat vehicle through terrain, it doesn’t perform well on, why not just slap on some shape-shifting wheels?

A team from Carnegie Mellon University’s National Robotics Engineering Center demonstrated the feasibility of such shape-shifting wheel-track mechanisms for the Defense Department recently.

The new technology dubbed a “reconfigurable wheel-track,” can transition from a round wheel to a triangular track and back again while the vehicle is in motion — allowing for an instant improvement in tactical mobility on shifting terrain.

The wheel-track is part of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Ground X-Vehicle Technologies, or GXV-T, program, which aims to improve mobility, survivability, safety, and effectiveness of future combat vehicles without piling on more armor.

“We’re looking at how to enhance survivability by buttoning up the cockpit and augmenting the crew through driver-assistance aids,” said Maj. Amber Walker, the program manager for GXV-T in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office. “For mobility, we’ve taken a radically different approach by avoiding armor and developing options to move quickly and be agile over all terrain.”

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