The Defense Advanced Research Institute now has a solution for landing in choppy seas and uneven terrain: adaptive robotic landing gear, shaped like giant steel grasshopper legs. The system employs sensors to figure out the best angle to approach a landing site, so the legs adjust themselves accordingly. In a test video shown on September 10th, DARPA showed the legs attached to an otherwise standard RC chopper as it touched down with two feet on an elevated piece of wood and two feet firmly on the grass — which is notable because it resembles the type of uneven terrain current landing gear is incapable of dealing with.
Roboticists have long looked to insects for inspiration. Scientists have modeled miniature search-and-rescue robots after the cockroach, taking advantage of the insect's exoskeletal shell to bump up its agility and help it slide through small spaces. It's also been a valuable pastime for researchers to film insects with high-speed cameras, resulting in such nightmare fuel as a water strider-inspired jumping robot that can leap 5.5 inches off a liquid surface without creating a splash. After all, the course of nature has resulted in tiny critters capable of astounding feats when it comes to flight, carrying weight, and moving around with more than two legs.
In case you were getting over a fear of insects
Insects’ abilities to land on uneven surfaces have long fascinated designers in the aviation community, since ideal landings aren’t always possible — especially in the cases of disaster relief and military operations. With adaptive landing gear, DARPA says helicopter pilots will be able to take off and land on angled, weirdly shaped, or even moving surfaces, like the surface of a ship in rough waters. DARPA has been designing the tech with the Georgia Institute of Technology, which will continue further development on the project.
The adaptive landing gear is not as outright terrifying as some of the other DARPA-affiliated robotics work — like Boston Dynamics' Atlas humanoid running in the woods, presumably in preparation for murdering some human. Still, there's something unsettling about inanimate objects moving with life-like motion. Check out some of the RC copter's creepier maneuvers: