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Lockheed Martin Developing Flying Robotic Car Carrier

This flying robot will carry anything you want, including a car with you inside

2 min read
Lockheed Martin Developing Flying Robotic Car Carrier

At the AUVSI trade show last week, we spent most of our time wandering around looking for robots that weren't just slightly different flavors of quadrotors, or little airplanes with cameras on them. Things weren't as wacky and awesome as they have been in past years (possibly because the market is maturing a bit), but we still managed to dig up some very cool stuff. And one of the very coolest things was Lockheed Martin's Transformer TX, a DARPA project that'll result in an unmanned payload transport system that can deliver just about anything. Even a car, with you in it.

Originally, DARPA's Transformer program was going to be an actual flying car, like this:

It evolved from a helicopter-ish design into a vehicle with a pair of swiveling ducted fans, like this:

So that would have been fun, but Lockheed Martin Skunk Works had the clever idea of decoupling the car from the flying system entirely, and turning the VTOL bit on top into an autonomous robotic delivery system, like this:

The idea is that you can throw just about anything pod-sized underneath the UAV, including (potentially) a vehicle, as Lockheed's models show:

The best part is that Lockheed, along with partner Piasacki Aircraft, is actually going to build a flying Transformer TX. They're not going to do the car bit, at least not yet, but they'll put together a full-size version of the UAV along with one cargo pod and have it flying by 2015. The final test will involve a mock pod delivery mission; you might be thinking to yourself that you'd love to see a pod pick up mission, but Lockheed quite rightly points out that trying to engineer that level of precision would be a ridiculous amount of effort when odds are you'll just have a soldier there to hook it up anyway.

The production version of Transformer will boast a 250 mile range and a top speed of 200 knots. Thanks to the ducted fans, it'll be both safer and more efficient than a helicopter, and will be able to land in an area half the size that a helicopter with a similar payload would require. It's also small enough that you can stick it on a trailer a drive it down a single lane road, making transportation relatively easy.

Ultimately, Transformer will be autonomous enough that flying off with a manned vehicle underneath may actually happen. We may also see surveillance and strike packages, although at least initially, the focus will be on cargo. We'll be checking back in a year or two to see this thing get off the ground.

[ Lockheed Martin ]

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The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof

In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

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