Helicopters are some of the most nimble aircraft ever created. They can hover. They can take off and land vertically. They can squeeze into tight spaces. But they still need level surfaces to land on.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) took a moment away fromto experiment with attaching robotic legs to a helicopter.
DARPA released information about the project on September 10. Instead of regular skids, the robotic landing gear consists of four articulated legs that can fold and adapt to uneven surfaces. The agency believes it could be useful for "forward operating areas, ships at sea and natural-disaster zones."
The legs have contact sensors built into the feet that respond to force. Those sensors help determine how much the legs need to extend or fold in to compensate for the landscape.
A demonstration video shows a model helicopter kitted out with the legs. It looks like an insect coming down to land, arranging its legs to keep the body of the aircraft stable and level. When not extended for landing, the legs fold up next to the belly of the chopper.
"The equipment--mounted on an otherwise unmodified, unmanned helicopter -- successfully demonstrated the ability to land and take off from terrain that would be impossible to operate from with standard landing gear," said DARPA program manager Ashish Bagai.
The project means DARPA is about halfway to creating a working Transformer. If it ever gets all the way there, it will definitely be an Autobot.