(NaturalNews) The age of autonomous robotic vehicles indeed has more than meets the eye.
The latest drone being developed for the Pentagon's next-gen capabilities comes out of Advanced Tactics in El Segundo, California, who announced their helicopter/truck transformer that is designed to haul supplies, pick up casualties and wounded soldiers and give support to missions - all without a human pilot/driver in the mix.
Officially, it is a "first of its kind" adaptable "Modular, Roadable Casualty Evacuation and Cargo Resupply Aircraft," and may be key to the future of warfare and the rise of robotics and artificial intelligence in modern life, including on the battlefield.
With eight helicopter rotors and four-wheel drive capability, Advanced Tactics has dubbed it the "Black Knight TRANSFORMER," perhaps in homage to the vehicle technologies of more than one big-screen adventure film.
The Black Knight's ground drivetrain unit combines with vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) technology that allows it to land in safe zones, such as behind enemy fire, and then drive to wounded soldiers or payloads in hot zones via its robust truck body to pick up and return them to safe areas for evacuation - all with remote-controlled driving. Its applications are also oriented toward urban warfare, impossibly harsh weather and hazardous or toxic environments. (Watch video of a prototype transformer vehicle here: http://www.youtube.com.)
The multicopter rotors fold down for driving on the ground and flip back up for takeoff and flight - making it a notable entrant in an emerging age of transformers and intelligent robotic vehicles.
By design, Advanced Tactics has created its transformer with modular parts, to assist in scaling, and removable components that could further transform vehicles to adjust to larger payload weight limits or amphibious capabilities like a boat hull or more traditional helicopter skids. (In other words, the stuff of children's fiction and dystopic visions of the future dating a couple of decades back now come to pass as reality, however unsettling). The standard prototype sought by the Pentagon will be approximately 4,000 lb, measuring 30 ft by 16 ft, with an average cargo capacity of 500-1,000 lbs.
The Black Knight transformer is intended in part for Special Forces operations, in which units will be able to benefit from the adaptable and covert capabilities of an all-terrain vehicle combined with (quiet) helicopter vertical takeoff capability that will assist in less detectable mobility.
It was commissioned by the military under a project grant for the U.S. Army's Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center in Fort Detrick, Maryland, who have been pursuing a working mixed-use transformer vehicle to meet their mandate for a "Multi-Mission Medical and Casualty Evacuation (CASEVAC) Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV) / Unmanned Ground Vehicle (UGV)" since at least 2010.
Essentially, it's a drone version of a cargo helicopter with dual purpose as a truck/hummer vehicle or even amphibious capabilities - all of which can further be adapted to autonomous drone piloting that may later cut humans out of the strategic OODA (observe, orient, decide and act) loop used for making military decisions.
Of course, this reduces many of the risks involved in human flight, recovery and resupply missions but simultaneously automates the acts of war - removing some of the factors that might otherwise limit engagement in the first place.
Advanced Tactics has also been developing the Panther TRANSFORMER - a smaller variant - under contract for the Air Force Research Laboratory Special Ops Transport Challenge since 2012. The Panther is a manned vehicle designed for quick, undetected cargo shipment over mountainous and rugged terrain and includes a six-rotor multicopter configuration with the capability of hauling at least 700 pounds in equipment and two passengers.
Additionally, Advanced Tactics has been developing the Barracuda, an unnerving "quadrotor" multicopter plane that features its patent-pending tilt-rotor in twin sequence, allowing this plane - which can be scaled up to a massive 60,000 lb weight - to shift from VTOL capability to a horizontal configuration wherein the quadrotors become propellers accompanying a huge wingspan. It is also oriented toward carrying cargo and resupplying, able to land on ships and tight spaces and takeoff again using VTOL.