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DARPA awards $988K to CMU Robotics Institute for autonomous flight system for Transformer program

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded a 17-month, $988,000 contract to Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute to develop an autonomous flight system for the Transformer (TX) Program, which is exploring the feasibility of a military ground vehicle that could transform into a vertical-take-off-and-landing (VTOL) air vehicle. (Earlier post.)

The TX vehicle envisioned by DARPA would be capable of transporting four people and 1,000 pounds of payload up to 250 nautical miles, either by land or by air. Its enhanced mobility would increase survivability by making movements less predictable and would make the vehicle suitable for a wide variety of missions.

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. 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.

—Sanjiv Singh, CMU research professor of robotics

Carnegie Mellon has a long history of leadership in autonomous navigation—including the self-driving SUV called Boss, the winning entry in DARPA’s Urban Challenge robot road race in 2007 and DepthX, an autonomous NASA submarine that explored the world’s deepest sinkhole.

Singh applied expertise in robotic perception and planning to demonstrate a fully autonomous helicopter flying in between wires, trees and buildings in DARPA’s Organic Air Vehicle II (OAV2) Program. And, working with Piasecki Aircraft earlier this year, he demonstrated that a full-size helicopter could avoid low altitude obstacles, select a landing site and land without human input.

Carnegie Mellon is one of six contractors DARPA has chosen for the TX program. The focus of CMU’s program will be on situational awareness, collision avoidance and intuitive control. Honeywell Laboratories, which worked with Carnegie Mellon in the OAV2 program, is a subcontractor to Carnegie Mellon and will work on the human factors issues associated with the program.

AAI Corp. and Lockheed Martin Co. were selected by DARPA as prime system integrators for the first phase of the TX program, developing overall design concepts for the transforming vehicle. Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, which is developing engine technology, and Carnegie Mellon were selected as critical enabling technology vendors.



I would much rather have a human being at the controls of any aircraft than have it be autonomous. An autonomous tram at an airport is quite different than four person VTOL transformer flying in combat operations, adverse weather and rugged terrain. The government is trying to save pilot training money, they think troops are stupid and will have no problem jumping on one of these things, or both.


They should go one step further and replace the 4 soldiers with armed robots. Why waste human life fighting terrorists for the next 10000 years.


"They should go one step further and replace the 4 soldiers with armed robots. Why waste human life fighting terrorists for the next 10000 years."

When was the tea party withdrawal schedule released?


We should not try to fight hard to identify terrorists on foreign lands with ground soldiers. The risk to our solders (and allies) are too high. Remote controlled unmanned well armed crafts or armed crafts equipped with smart robots may be a better way to do it. Ultra small robots capable of investing terrorists with disabling discomfort or pathologies may be more effective.


This TX an interesting project to follow. "Transformer" a flying car - Why not? I could use one to hop over to BC for dinner with friends.

Most large commercial airliners fly automatically these days. And are fully capable of landing and take off without pilot intervention. So, what's the big whoop??

I would worry that the robots they make turn out to be Cylons.

BTW, "terrorists" - those who instigate fear and terror, can be found in quantity at any news editor's desk.

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