DARPA Is Now Building Transformers

It’s been the dream of every kid since the 1980s; real, actual Transformers. And while DARPA may not be making androids that turn into racecars just yet, they’ve made the first step to creating giant transforming robots: The Aerial Reconfigurable Embedded System, or ARES.

The ARES is designed to solve a fairly serious problem; soldiers are often in the middle of nowhere with poor roads and worse safety. Helicopters help, but there’s more demand for helicopters than there are helicopters available. The solution is, of course, giant flying robots.

ARES is designed to take up less space than a helicopter, and the foundation of the unit is a robot with vertical take-off and landing capabilities; essentially, a drone with helicopter capabilities. But the really cool part, namely the transforming capabilities, are what makes DARPA so proud:

It is envisioned that the flight module would travel between its home base and field operations to deliver and retrieve several different types of detachable mission modules, each designed for a specific purpose—cargo pickup and delivery, casualty extraction or airborne intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities, for instance.

Units could direct the flight modules using apps on their mobile phones or ruggedized tablets. Initially, the system would be unmanned, with a future path towards semi-autonomous flight systems and user interfaces for optionally manned/controlled flight.

In other words, we still have to help them transform, but they can reconfigure themselves into all sorts of useful shapes, ranging from dropping off much needed supplies to flying over a house and making sure it’s safe for troops.

This isn’t just DARPA spitballing, either; the project has entered its third and final phase this week, with Lockheed Martin handling the engineering duties. Now all we need is the Matrix and a little Stan Bush, and we’ll have fully sentient transforming robots. Uh, maybe don’t arm them.