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Watch DARPA's plan to snatch drones out of the air

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Landing without actually landing

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, has long had a keen interest in drones. The military’s research wing has worked on and sketched out ideas that range from turning drones into wireless hotspots to making drones hunt like wolves. One problem that persists, though, is safely landing drones in remote areas.

This week DARPA published the first footage of an ongoing project called SideArm, which is all about creating a mobile crane setup to solve that issue. Instead of scraping across uneven ground, DARPA tapped Aurora Flight Sciences to create a crane that can be used to snatch drones out of the air.

DARPA essentially borrowed (and inverted) the tech that slows and traps the jets that land on aircraft carriers. You can see a working version of SideArm in the video above, which shows a Lockheed Martin drone being fired at the hook, rail, and net setup.

DARPA’s goal for SideArm is to get this technology to the point where the drone launch and retrieval system can fit inside a shipping container, making it possible to move it by truck, ship, rail, C-130 airplane, or a CH-47 helicopter. DARPA also included few animations of what that tech will eventually look like — essentially a more balanced and polished version of the work in progress, but a version that also looks an awful lot like a certain heavily modified DeLorean DMC-12.