Aircraft

DARPA demonstrates robotic landing gear for helicopters

DARPA demonstrates robotic lan...
The robotic landing gear negotiating an obstacle landing while keeping the craft level
The robotic landing gear negotiating an obstacle landing while keeping the craft level
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The robotic landing gear can be installed on an unmodified helicopter
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The robotic landing gear can be installed on an unmodified helicopter
The robotic landing gear can handle a 20-degree slope
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The robotic landing gear can handle a 20-degree slope
The robotic landing gear can allow helicopters to land on ships in rough seas
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The robotic landing gear can allow helicopters to land on ships in rough seas
The robotic landing gear fold up in flight
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The robotic landing gear fold up in flight
The robotic landing gear consists of four articulated liegs
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The robotic landing gear consists of four articulated liegs
The robotic landing gear in a tilt test
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The robotic landing gear in a tilt test
The robotic landing gear negotiating an obstacle landing while keeping the craft level
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The robotic landing gear negotiating an obstacle landing while keeping the craft level

Helicopters are versatile machines capable of all manner of maneuvers in the air, but when it comes to takeoffs and landings they are very fussy creatures, preferring flat, level pads, which are scarce in combat and rescue missions. DARPA recently demonstrated a new robotic landing gear system in an unmanned flight near Atlanta, Georgia, that's designed to overcome these limitations by enabling landings on broken or uneven terrain with a high degree of safety.

Despite decades of development, most helicopters rely on very simple skid-or-wheels landing gear that wouldn't look out of place on a Wright flier. When taking off and landing, helicopters need to remain fairly level to avoid tipping their rotors, which could suddenly collide with the ground or become a menace to boarding passengers. The result is that many times helicopters are forced to hover precariously a few feet above a hillside or broken field while they're loaded and unloaded. It's an unsatisfactory solution and one reason why helicopter pilots tend to retire young.

The new robotic landing gear is currently under development by the Georgia Institute of Technology under funding from DARPA’s Mission Adaptive Rotor (MAR) program. Its recent flight was unveiled at the agency's Wait, What? A Future Technology Forum in St. Louis.

The robotic landing gear can handle a 20-degree slope
The robotic landing gear can handle a 20-degree slope

The adaptive system consists of a four-legged undercarriage that replaces the standard landing gear. The effect is four independently articulated legs that make it look as if the helicopter could walk away under its own power. Instead, the legs fold up against the fuselage of the ship after take off and extend on landing. Each leg has a force-sensitive contact sensor in its foot and all four are designed to work in concert as a computer makes real time calculations of the best angles to set the legs in order to keep the ship level and stable, without risking the rotor hitting the ground.

According to DARPA, the new landing gear is easily installed, only modestly increases the weight of the craft, reduces the risk of damage from hard landings by 80 percent, and allows helicopters to set down on 20-degree slopes – twice that of current designs. In addition, it allows helicopters to make landing on decks in high seas that currently require them to be winched down.

The video below shows the adaptive landing gear in action.

Source: DARPA

MAR Robotic Landing Gear Demonstration

12 comments
Derek Howe
that's pretty cool. limited use though, since the pilot should just land on a flat spot. But whatever, I love seeing all the cool shit DARPA creates.
RogerInHawaii
How can that in any way be considered "robotic"? It's a self-adjusting landing gear. Nothing robotic about it.
Techtwit
Needs at least one more leg each side. With four points of contact with the ground, if one leg slips into a hole, sinks or just suffers a failure, the helo may well tip catastrophically. with more legs, much less chance of such a disaster.
DaveWesely
I would think hydraulic actuators would be a better fit. Link them all together, let them hang until all four are touching then lock in place with a valve. The only case where you would need a continuous leveling mechanism after touchdown would be on watercraft. For terrestrial use, the electronics would be unnecessary.
Stephen N Russell
Lisc, & retrofit to other copters alone, id be awesome IF mass producable & retrofittable to copter types. Must for rural & wilderness venues alone aside after disasters, quakes, floods alone Add pontoons for water landings.
Bob809
What a brilliant idea. Don't care if it is not robotic, it clearly works. I would say that a six leg configuration is a good idea too, but only for larger helicopters, military and rescue in particular.
davgrn
I would tend to agree with Techtwit that if you could add another point of contact without increasing the weight it would be better.
CaptD
I would be interested in the total weight of this system as compared to a current set of skids, since weight (and balance) are critical for helicopter design and/or safe flight. Also the "system" should have some automatic "override" that would prevent its operation during an autorotation or similar emergency.
Jay Donnaway
Aye, more streamlined in flight than skids, but the tiny feet are unreliable for rough/soft terrain. With six or more legs it could crab-walk itself off the pad, right into a hangar! (Greater weight and complexity would be required for legs that could walk forward rather than sideways.)
Island Architect
Clearly you do not want to be on the upside of the landing spot on a slope. b