DARPA’s new helicopter model can land on almost any surface

DARPA has done it again. DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, are famously known for their research on humanoid robots or perhaps real-life Terminators. In fact, earlier this year, they organized their famous annual robot competition, the DARPA Robotics Challenge. This time it is not about humanoid robots but rather, it is a helicopter that utilizes an interesting piece of technology referred to as the adaptive robotic landing gear.

Helicopters are convenient, which is why they are used by a wide range of people such as the military, politicians, and almost anyone who can actually afford one. They take off and land vertically, they are agile in the air and go around skyscrapers like they do in Hollywood movies, and they can get you to just about anywhere.


[Courtesy of DARPA]

One of the main problems with them is that they might have difficulty landing on any terrain that is not flat enough, which makes them not-so-convenient at times. What if you could have a helicopter that could land on almost any type of terrain? This question seems to the motivation behind DARPA’s new project.

Instead of the regular landing blades on a helicopter, DARPA used some form of robotic landing gear, in turn making the helicopter look like a cockroach, or a grasshopper perhaps. The legs that form the landing gear can be extended and folded thanks to their articulated joints.


[Courtesy of DARPA]

The main idea behind the use of these robotic legs is quite interesting. At the bottom of each leg is a contact sensor that is responsive to the amount of force acting on it. So when the helicopter attempts to land on an uneven surface, the contact sensor on each leg experiences different amounts of force which is different from that of the other legs.

The different data recorded by all these sensors is then passed on to an on-board CPU which processes the data in real time. According to this data, the extension of the legs are adjusted in order to maintain the orientation of the helicopter and to prevent it from tipping over.


[Image Courtesy of DARPA]

It is important to note that this technology is still in its early stages and has not yet been perfected. Nonetheless, it looks very promising and can help improve mobility especially in places that lack sufficient infrastructure to support a regular helicopter.

Source: CNET