DARPA's robo-chopper legs sneer at your helipad

DARPA has revealed a new prototype landing gear for helicopters that could drastically improve the already maneuverable aerial vehicles. One of the main handicaps with helicopters is that require a stable, flat surface to land on, something that can be rare to come by in environments where helicopters need to operate most. DARPA's solution is essentially four robotic legs with multiple joints that can easily adapt to landing on angled or even moving surfaces.

The new experimental landing gear replaces the traditional kind with four articulated legs that fold up against a helicopter's fuselage during flight. The legs have force-sensitive contact sensors at the "feet," which allow the system to determine in real-time which angle each leg should be extended to. As the demonstration video below shows, the legs on one side could be extended longer than the other side, or each leg could be a different height to land on a moving service, all while keeping the helicopter fuselage level.

The improvements granted by this robotic landing system are obvious. As DARPA program manager Ashish Bagai says, "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."

In addition to making sure a helicopter's rotor doesn't come in contact with the landing surface, the experimental landing system offers several other benefits, including a reduction in the risk of damage during hard landings, a much improved ability to land on ships in violent waters, and the tradeoff of a small increase in overall weight for a significant increase in capability.