DARPA announces plans for self-piloted flying car

Terrafugia Transition
The Terrafugia Transition is a roadable aircraft that was tested last year. DARPA's plans for the Transformer X call for the vehicle to be capable of flying on autopilot and driving off-road, among other features. Credit: Terrafugia.
(PhysOrg.com) -- Last week, DARPA announced that it is inviting proposals to tackle its latest project: "a vertical takeoff and landing roadable air vehicle." The ground-to-sky vehicle, called Transformer X (TX), should have a maximum payload capacity of 1,000 pounds so that it can carry four passengers and their gear. It should also be capable of flying itself automatically, achieving an altitude of 1,000 feet, and traveling 250 miles on a single tank of fuel. And it should be built and ready for testing by 2015.

To date, as an article at The Register notes, the closest thing to a flying car that has been built and tested is the Terrafugia Transition. With the press of a button, the wings on this “roadable aircraft” can be folded up in 30 seconds, enabling it to switch from flying to driving on roads. But the proposed TX would have some significant differences, such that it would be a robust off-road vehicle with road performance similar to an SUV, and that it would have the option to fly on autopilot.

The robustness and ease of operation would be essential for various military missions that DARPA has in mind for the TX. For instance, this “sky jeep” could fly over the minefields and roadside bombs that typically surround US bases in Afghanistan or other war territories, and then land to carry out a ground patrol, which requires stopping to set up checkpoints and other ground-based tasks. The TX could also be used to stealthily carry supplies or passengers between ships at sea and a mainland area.

DARPA’s plans require that the TX be no larger than 30 feet long, 8.5 feet wide, and 9 feet high in ground configuration (about the size of two Hummers). The TX should lift off the ground without forward motion, and then climb upward at least one foot for every six feet forward. DARPA also specifies that the TX should be as quiet as a conventional automobile in ground mode and make no more noise than a single engine helicopter when flying, while achieving similar speeds.

The final major advantage of the TX would be that, since its robotic autopilot mode makes it capable of completely unmanned flight, it wouldn’t require extensive training to operate. Currently, every Marine aircraft is piloted by a trained pilot, as The Register notes. With the TX, passengers could operate the vehicle simply by selecting a destination or typing in some coordinates. However, the vehicle would still have an operating range between fully autonomous to allowing a human operator to make flight steering commands in real time.

wants a prototype that will be ready for ground and flight tests by 2015, and that will cost no more than $43 million to develop. Although the TX is currently just a lofty goal, it has the potential to transform military transportation - and possibly even civilian transportation, if everything goes as planned.

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More information: DARPA TX Announcement [pdf]
via: The Register

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Apr 19, 2010
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Apr 19, 2010
Maybe I'm just stuck in the last century when it comes to plane/car combos. I just feel that it will do neither job very well. Flying by itself seems like a tall order too. I would think that take off and landing would have to be done by a licensed pilot and if you are a licensed pilot you may as well just fly it yourself and the autopilot becomes more of a luxury than a necessity. Of course, if they manage to pull it off it will be an amazing advancement in transportation.

Apr 20, 2010
Apropos, check out Moller's perpetually-under-development Sky Car:


About the only thing missing on the prototype, is the ATV capability...

According to a recent press release, they're even joining in on this Darpa quest. So yes, 2015 for delivery sounds about right...

Apr 20, 2010
This sounds cool, but that's my problem - it _sounds_ cool. How useful is this, really? Wouldn't it be better to design smaller, efficient and more versatile air transport that can be used in urban areas?

On an unrelated note, that Moller sky car looks really, really cool.

Apr 20, 2010
Moller.... yawn .... perpetually is right .....

Apr 20, 2010
Could you imagine driving into the city, and finding hundreds of flying taxis and cars above your head :D

I like this idea a lot, it would make traveling far distances convenient because you can simply go from A to B (shortest route) or at least shorter than taking a million different roads going every direction. And for short distances you just drive.

Apr 20, 2010
DARPA is asking a lot here. Maybe this could be done with a dual-blade counter-rotating helicopter with electric motors powering the blades and the wheels. However, without super-strong, super-light materials (nanotube composites?), this is somewhere between a pipe dream and a foolish waste of money. Materials science hasn't reached this level, and probably won't for a few more years. Until then, this idea isn't practical.

Apr 20, 2010
And then you have to add in the national security risk of flying cars being used as weapons :|

Apr 20, 2010
Until air traffic controls are fully integrated with autopilots of the vehicles in the air to comprehensively control the sky traffic, this will essentially restrict the flying car to special uses of the military and a few others with special permits.

Apr 21, 2010
The only way for the vehicle they want to fly is, they better break out the anti-gravity technology!

The noise from anything we have now to get that much weight off the ground would be very loud!
Plus this thing would be an easy target because you'll hear it coming from a mile away!

Apr 23, 2010
The only way for the vehicle they want to fly is, they better break out the anti-gravity technology!

The noise from anything we have now to get that much weight off the ground would be very loud!
Plus this thing would be an easy target because you'll hear it coming from a mile away!


I'm sure they're already working on a helicopter with "roadable" capabilities

Apr 24, 2010
nobody said it had to be fixed wing. Which would be a foolish consideration in rough terrain, which is the one of the core statements from darpa: must handle "rough terrain".

Fixed wing needs runways, rotating wing does not. So the counter-rotating copter design is likely the only REASONABLE way to make this viable. Pun intended.

Of course, we could instead work with forbidden technology, like anti-gravity, and screw this time wasting ground-pounder stuff..but darpa's relatives, their 'cousins' (other branches of the family) that are working with corporations/black-ops ...don't seem to want that to happen...

Apr 24, 2010
"perpetually-under-development Sky Car" lol, maybe the perpetual mobile does exist after all!

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