Helicopters of the future could use insectlike robotic legs to land in unlikely places - like the slopes of steep hills or the decks of rocking boats.
Touching down on uneven surfaces is something that today's helicopters are just not equipped to do, according to the Defense Advanced Projects Agency, or DARPA, the branch of the U.S. Department of Defense that dreams up new military technologies.
But robotic landing gear developed for DARPA at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) could better equip these aircraft to land just about anywhere.
The new landing gear features four robotic legs with bendable "knees" that turn a normal helicopter into what looks like a giant, mechanical fly.
When the chopper touches down, the legs automatically move to stabilize the aircraft, according to DARPA officials, who recently tested out the new system near the Georgia Tech campus in Atlanta.
"The equipment - mounted on an otherwise unmodified, unmanned helicopter - successfully demonstrated the ability to land and take off from terrain that would be impossible to operate from with standard landing gear," Ashish Bagai, DARPA program manager, said in a statement.
Embedded with force-sensitive contact sensors on each of its feet, the robotic legs determine the precise angle they need to assume to keep the helicopter from tipping over when it lands on uneven ground, such as on the side of a hill or mountain.
The legs can also keep the chopper steady if it lands on a moving surface, such as the deck of a rocking ship at sea. Watch the video below.