In the coming days, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Ground X-Vehicle Technology (GXV-T)

MAJ Amber Walker

program will be closing down and DSJ had a chance to sit down with Program Manager MAJ Amber Walker to talk about the takeaways of the program and the next steps for Walker.

The GXV-T program was about “how we can shift the paradigm of continuing to add weight and heavy armor to vehicles and address survivability and mobility by getting faster and lighter,” Walker said.

Originally it began in the summer of 2016 by awarding eight contracts to eight organizations.

The eight organizations who received a contract
  1. Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, Pa.)
  2. Honeywell International Inc. (Phoenix, Ariz.)
  3. Leidos (San Diego, Calif.)
  4. Pratt & Miller (New Hudson, Mich.)
  5. QinetiQ Inc. (Farnborough, UK)
  6. Raytheon BBN (Cambridge, Mass.)
  7. Southwest Research Institute (San Antonio, Tex.)
  8. SRI International (Menlo Park, Calif.)

All of the contracts and work centered around four technical areas: radically enhanced mobility, survivability through agility, crew augmentation, and signature management.

For more details about the technical areas

Radically Enhanced Mobility—Ability to traverse diverse off-road terrain, including slopes and various elevations. Capabilities of interest include revolutionary wheel/track and suspension technologies that would enable greater terrain access and faster travel both on- and off-road compared to existing ground vehicles.

Survivability through Agility—Autonomously avoid incoming threats without harming occupants through technologies that enable, for example, agile motion and active repositioning of armor. Capabilities of interest include vertical and horizontal movement of armor to defeat incoming threats in real time.

Crew Augmentation—Improved physical and electronically assisted situational awareness for crew and passengers; semi-autonomous driver assistance and automation of key crew functions similar to capabilities found in modern commercial airplane cockpits. Capabilities of interest include high-resolution, 360-degree visualization of data from multiple onboard sensors and technologies to support closed-cockpit vehicle operations.

Signature Management—Reduction of detectable signatures, including visible, infrared (IR), acoustic and electromagnetic (EM). Capabilities of interest include improved ways to avoid detection and engagement by adversaries.

“Our goal is really to support the art of the possible,” Walker said. “It’s about helping the services reimagine the next combat vehicle.”

And Walker and DAPRA did just that with new technology like advanced suspension systems, a reconfigurable wheel track, and a 3-D display that allows drivers to see even in a windowless vehicle.

The advanced suspension systems will allow for innovative control and maneuver.

Honeywell “leveraged their experience in avionics to provide a three-dimensional view of the world,” which alleviates motion sickness and discomfort for the driver and provides a sense of depth and control, which “you just can’t get on a two-dimensional display,” Walker said.

Honeywell stated that they were working to “increase the field of view our cameras provide by using six cameras in total to give an almost 180-degree external view in front of the test vehicle.”

Carnegie Mellon developed the reconfigurable wheel track technology, which essentially allows the wheels to shape shift while moving. As an example, Walker said, the wheels can go from round to a triangle to help with traction in soft soil or hard-packed sand.

“Shape change on the move is something we haven’t done before,” Walker said.

The GXV-T program is perhaps one of the most applicable programs in DARPA, which focuses on massive transformational change in place of incremental change.

The Army has a tank research program, called TARDEC, which shares many of the same speed and weight goals, and one of the Army’s Big Six for modernization in the coming years is a next-generation combat vehicle. Meanwhile, the Marine Corps is looking to upgrade its light-armored vehicles (LAV).  

Walker said service partners were invited to reviews and demonstrations throughout the two-year program and now several have expressed interests in incorporating elements of it for further development.

TARDEC, the night vision and electronic sensor lab at Fort Belvoir, called CERDEC, and the Office of Naval Research all may pick up and further the work of GXV-T.

“We’ve provided capabilities to the services that could influence future tactical vehicle development,” she said. “I think we would say it’s been successful.”

As for Walker—a West Point grad and Rhodes scholar with a doctorate in Philosophy in Aerospace Engineering—she’s not sure exactly what program may be in her future, but probably a soldier-focused ground program, she said. Maybe even returning to her doctoral work, addressing some of the man-robot challenges, she said.

“I am a soldier and I’m passionate about getting the warfighter new technology,” she said. “So I’m happy to be a part of that pipeline.”