DARPA develops robotic helicopter legs

Posted on 17 Sep 2015 by Michael Cruickshank

The US Military is working on a technology which would allow helicopters a greatly enhanced degree of landing maneuverability.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has been working with the Georgia Institute of Technology in order to develop a revolutionary new helicopter landing system.

Through the use of robotic legs, this system could theoretically allow a helicopter or other vertically-landing aircraft the ability to land on sloping or unstable surfaces.

“Having the ability to land on and take off from angled, irregular and moving surfaces would greatly expand the effectiveness of helicopters across many military and national security missions,” explained DARPA in a press release.

The agency has developed an innovative landing gear based around four robotic, articulated legs.

These legs use force sensors built into their ‘feet’ allowing them to adjust to the shape of the terrain underneath them. Once an appropriate angle is determined, the legs take their final position and the helicopter is able to land.

In addition, while in flight these robot legs can fold up alongside the helicopter, allowing the craft a greater degree of aerodynamics.

DARPA believes that using this new system it can reduce the risk of damage during hard landings by up to a factor of five, when compared to conventional landing gear.

As well, the robotic landing gear would enable a craft to land on slopes of up to 20 degrees, more than twice that which is possible with current technology.

Finally, DARPA also envisages that this new system will allow for landings on irregular surfaces such as areas strewn with boulders or logs.

Testing is already underway for the new system, which is designed to work with existing helicopter airframes.

“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 Ashish Bagai, DARPA  program manager.

Further into the future it is also possible this landing gear could enable a helicopter to land on moving surfaces, such as the deck of an aircraft carrier in high seas.