Military concept vehicle looks to Nascar

Concept cars don't just come out of Detroit and off the drawing boards at Toyota. The U.S. military also dabbles in automotive design, of a rather chunky sort.

The newest look to come down the pike is the Ultra Armored Patrol Vehicle, which originated with a little help from the automotive industry itself. The project is led by the Georgia Technology Research Institute, and funded by the Office of Naval Research, but its inspiration comes in part from the racecar circuit.

To come up with the prototype--Ultra is a proving ground for concepts, rather than a production vehicle proper--the researchers enlisted a number of auto industry pros. They included "advanced development and racing professional" Scott Badenoch; Dave McClellan, a onetime Corvette chief engineer for GM; and Tom Moore, formerly a top exec in advanced engineering for Chrysler. "By including persons with high-performance automotive engineering and NASCAR expertise as part of our team, we were able to root this advanced concepts project in real-world vehicle design," David Parekh, deputy director at GTRI, said in a statement last week.

The dose of Dale Earnhardt Jr. isn't to be taken lightly. A central goal of the new military vehicle is to transport troops quickly and nimbly, and with a high degree of survivability when the bombs start going off. Among the more notable elements of Ultra is the "blast bucket"--the crew capsule--which would blend new armor materials with a multiangled geometery to better provide "ballistic, blast and enhanced roll-over protection." On-board computers would help out with steering, suspension and brakes, "e-safety" systems would pitch in for night driving and stability control, and radar systems might actually slow vehicles automatically under certain conditions.

The design isn't all futuristic stuff, though; Ultra, which is slightly larger than a Humvee, rides on a commercial truck chassis and runs on diesel fuel.

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