The new age of helicopters has arrived thanks to the Defense Advanced Research Institute (DARPA) research on integrating dragonfly-like skids on these machines.
Helicopters, versatile manned machines while in the air, capable of sleek maneuvers and fit for all types of operations, are rather fussy when it comes to landing. Conventionally, the flatter the surface they land on is, the better. Accident risks are thus avoided.
Not any more. The newly presented DARPA-signed technology allows helicopters to perform safe landings on uneven surfaces and inclines, something never witnessed before when it comes to helicopters. The dragonfly-inspired landing skids beat traditional landing skids by far.
These are a set of four articulated, flexible legs that act precisely like those of an insect. All four skids are equipped with force feedback sensors which inform the helicopter on the pressure it must exert to maintain level despite the characteristics of the landing pad.
The articulated legs fold under the helicopter during flight and extend as it prepares to land. Once the landing is completed, the force sensors also make sure that the helicopter is kept in a level position that prevents the rotor coming in contact with any surface.
Ashish Bagai, program manager at DARPA, explains:
“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”.
As is usually the case, the new technology and the way it works was demonstrated at the “Wait, What? A Future Technology Forum” taking place in St. Louis.
So, what do the newly designed dragonfly-like skids bring to the table?
For once, they enable helicopters to reduce damage stemming from rough landings on uneven surfaces. Landing on ships navigating rough waters should no longer be of concern either. With the landing slope degree raised to 20 degrees thanks to the flexible dragonfly-like skids, a helicopter may now land on slopes, rough terrain and moving landing sites.
Taking off from moving, angled or irregular sites is also a piece of cake. While the articulated, force-sensors equipped helicopters only add a modest extra weight to the machines, they greatly enhance their capabilities.
The project was funded by DARPA’s Mission Adaptive Rotor program. Continuing to develop the robotic landing gear system is done with the aid of the Georgia Institute of Technology.
Photo Credits: darpa.mil