Feeds

DARPA at work on 'Transformer TX', a proper flying car

'Morphing' robo hover-Prius to run on 'ring motors'

Intelligent flash storage arrays

Operates without much human piloting = can do without humans altogether = safer than normal cars?

At a wild guess, "morphing vehicle body" might mean extendable wings or some other means of generating lift from forward motion in flight, allowing the TX to cruise from place to place economically using less thrust while charging up batteries or ultracapacitors drained by a vertical liftoff. "Ring motors" would see the ducted fans driven by machinery located around the outside of the blades, built into the duct walls rather than at their hubs.

DARPA seem to hint that the "advanced flight controls and flight management systems" would be so sophisticated as to allow the TX to fly unmanned if required. They say that "[One-person] TX vehicles could be dispatched for downed airman recovery or for evacuating injured personnel from difficult to access locations".

This makes sense: an autopilot system so good that an ordinary soldier could fly the TX would be effectively capable of unmanned operations anyway. Heavily automated controls and flight-management would also help to counteract the inevitable human errors among drivers/pilots which make the roads so dangerous today and which could make skies full of flying cars undesirable tomorrow.

DARPA also make it clear that the TX would be very suitable for operations in built-up areas:

The TX vehicle is intended to make roads irrelevant for military small unit manoeuvres. These units can use TX air vehicles to fly over obstacles or impassible terrain, avoid ambushes and improvised explosive devices ... or to resupply isolated small units. Four-man versions would be suitable for enhanced company operations concepts which would allow the soldier/team to see the situation and pick the best place to “drop in” for urban operations.

That seems to be pretty much a clean sweep on the proper-flying-car checklist: it's quiet, it hovers, it's so automated that ordinary humans can use it without undue danger to themselves or others. That's a proper Jetsons flying car, if it can be built.

As DARPA say, such machines could indeed have revolutionary effects on small-unit tactics. One- to four-person air buggies able to hop over buildings and fly around towns below rooftop height (or ten thousand feet up) would no doubt get shot down or blown up on occasion, but they'd usually be harder to nail than ordinary one- to four-person military units.

But, like the internet (perhaps DARPA's most famous invention) you can see the civilian applications reaching further and faster here than the military ones. Assuming the technology ever gets off the ground, anyway (ahem). All that's scheduled for next year is "trade studies, preliminary design studies ... and modelling". ®

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

More from The Register

next story
SECRET U.S. 'SPACE WARPLANE' set to return from SPY MISSION
Robot minishuttle X-37B returns after almost 2 years in orbit
LOHAN crash lands on CNN
Overflies Die Welt en route to lively US news vid
You can crunch it all you like, but the answer is NOT always in the data
Hear that, 'data journalists'? Our analytics prof holds forth
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
No sail: NASA spikes Sunjammer
'Solar sail' demonstrator project binned
Carry On Cosmonaut: Willful Child is a poor taste Star Trek parody
Cringeworthy, crude and crass jokes abound in Steven Erikson’s sci-fi debut
Origins of SEXUAL INTERCOURSE fished out of SCOTTISH LAKE
Fossil find proves it first happened 385 million years ago
Human spacecraft dodge COMET CHUNKS pelting off Mars
Odyssey orbiter yet to report, though - comet's trailing trash poses new threat
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.