DARPA taps Carnegie Mellon to build "flying car" brains

DARPA awards $988,000 contract to develop the autonomous flight system for its flying car concept

lockheeds tx mock up
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded a $988,000 contract to the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon to develop the autonomous flight system for its flying car concept.

Known as the Transformer (TX), the goal of the program is to build a flying vehicle that will let up to four people with 1,000 lbs of equipment fly 250 nautical miles.  The idea is to let military personnel avoid water, difficult terrain, and road obstructions as well as IED and ambush threats by driving and flying when necessary. 

Bots, bombs and weird science

DARPA said the vehicle will need to be able to drive on prepared surface and light off-road conditions, as well as support Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL) features.  The TX will also support range and speeds that will allow for missions to be performed on a single tank of fuel. DARPA said the TX will "provide the flexibility to adapt to traditional and asymmetric threats by providing the operator unimpeded movement over difficult terrain. In addition, transportation is no longer restricted to trafficable terrain that tends to makes movement predictable." 

DARPA said current transport systems present operational limitations where military personnel are either anchored to the ground with a Humvee and thus vulnerable to ambush, or reliant on helicopters, which are limited in flight speed and availability. The TX will let soldiers approach targets from directions opportune to them and not the enemy, DARPA stated. 

 "The TX is all about flexibility of movement and key to that concept is the idea that the vehicle could be operated by a soldier without pilot training," said Sanjiv Singh, Carnegie's research professor of robotics in a statement. "In practical terms, that means the vehicle will need to be able to fly itself, or to fly with only minimal input from the operator.  And this means that the vehicle has to be continuously aware of its environment and be able to automatically react in response to what it perceives."

Carnegie isn't the only outfit  DARPA will be using to develop the TX.  AAI  and Lockheed Martin will develop design concepts for the transforming vehicle during the first phase of the TX program. Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, is developing engine technology. 

Follow Michael Cooney on Twitter: nwwlayer8  

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