Courtesy of CMU.

Turns out you can reinvent the wheel.

A team of engineers from Carnegie Mellon’s National Robotics Engineering Center (NREC) has been recognized on Popular Science’s prestigious Best of What’s New list for 2018, for their work on car tires that can switch from a traditional wheel structure to all-terrain tracks within seconds.

The project is only the latest of several CMU projects that have made the list in the last several years. Previous honorees include self-landing helicopter technology and innovative surgical robots.

“The Best of What’s New Awards allow us the chance to examine and honor the best innovations of the year,” says Joe Brown, editor in chief of Popular Science. “This collection shapes our future, helps us be more efficient, keeps us healthy and safe and lets us have some fun along the way.”

The technology was developed through funding from a U.S. Department of Defense program aimed at creating faster and more versatile combat vehicles, but the project leads emphasized that the tires have a wide range of civic and industrial applications.

“Creating a reconfigurable wheel-track system that works on a moving vehicle and at high speeds was an exceptional challenge, but our NREC team came up with a design that works and has the potential to transform ground mobility,” says Dimi Apostolopoulos, senior systems scientist with The Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon and principal investigator for the project.

Popular Science has been giving out the “Best of What’s New” awards for more than 30 years. The magazine as a whole has been producing general interest science journalism in various forms since the 1870s.

According to the Popular Science website, judges are told to weigh “the significance of the innovation, the quality of the design and the finished product, the originality of the product, and the ambition and scope of the project.”

Bill O'Toole

Bill O'Toole was a full-time reporter for NEXTpittsburgh until October, 2019. He previously reported in Myanmar.