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Transferring motorsport technology to front-line defence

28 June 2010

Prodrive technology developed for championship winning rally cars, is helping the military to extract maximum capability from their vehicles across a wide range of operational conditions

Technology used to win the gruelling World Rally Championship could help drivers of military vehicles negotiate demanding terrain at higher speeds and with increased stability and safety. British motorsport specialist Prodrive developed the torque control technology that helped Subaru secure six World Rally titles and has now adapted the system to give military vehicles increased capability while also making them easier and safer to drive, as Prodrive’s driveline team leader, Simon Leleu explains.
“Operational priorities may dictate that forces personnel with minimal training must drive heavily laden vehicles at speed, often across uneven terrain; it’s a challenging task even for the most competent driver. Only the most skilled drivers are able to extract maximum capability from the vehicles and the risk of overturning the vehicle through misjudgement or when taking evasive action is ever present.”
Prodrive’s Active Torque Dynamics (ATD) system increases both safety and capability by using computer control to manage the amount of torque delivered to each wheel automatically. As well as optimising traction, the system improves vehicle stability and manoeuvrability. It also brings substantial improvements in slippery conditions.

Many all-wheel-drive vehicles are fitted with lockable differentials to help traction, but effective use of these devices requires a high level of driver skill and draws concentration away from the operational environment. ATD automatically optimises differential locking, increasing climbing and braking capability, eliminating the need to stop to adjust settings, and ensuring full steering control and maximum manoeuvrability at all times. Simon Leleu again:

“It’s quite remarkable what an ATD-equipped vehicle can do, even with an inexperienced driver. ATD enables the driver to concentrate purely on the speed and direction of the vehicle. He turns the steering wheel and unless he is outrageously ambitious, the vehicle will go where he commands. The system was tremendously successful as a secret weapon on the rally stage. Now it can help military drivers negotiate difficult terrain safely, and make quicker progress.”

The reduced driver skill requirements with an ATD-equipped vehicle can also improve both operational flexibility and mission success rates. The military has far greater flexibility in the choice of drivers by ensuring that safety and capability is no longer quite so dependent on the level of training and experience.

Prodrive ATD can be fitted to new vehicles with minimal additional engineering, and can also be retrofitted to some vehicles that already have suitable differentials.

Prodrive already has a number of defence consultancy projects under its belt. The motorsport culture of delivering results under extreme time constraints translates well into satisfying the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) Urgent Operational Requirement (UOR) process, as Prodrive’s head of engineering, David Hemming, explains:

“A lot of the major defence projects have long development schedules and some of the large defence technology firms are geared to these timelines, which doesn’t necessarily work so well with UORs. We are used to engineering highly robust special vehicles to suit a strict set of regulations within a short time frame and that expertise is very relevant to UOR-type activities.”

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