Carnegie Mellon Designing An Autonomous Flying Car for DARPA

DARPA flying Humvee

We’ve seen autonomous cars and flying cars, and now Carnegie Mellon is upping the technological stakes by building an autonomous flying car. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) this week gave Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute a 17-month, $988,000 contract to develop an autonomous flying vehicle for the U.S. military.

The autonomous prototype will be built for DARPA’s Transformer (TX) Program, which is developing a military ground vehicle that can rapidly morph into a vertical-take-off-and-landing (VTOL) air vehicle. DARPA imagines that a TX vehicle could carry four people and 1,000 pounds of payload up to 250 nautical miles by land or air travel.

“The TX is all about flexibility of movement and key to that
concept is the idea that the vehicle could be operated by a soldier
without pilot training,” Sanjiv Singh, CMU research professor of
robotics, explained in a statement. “In practical terms, that means the vehicle will need to be
able to fly itself, or to fly with only minimal input from the

CMU has experience in the autonomous vehicle arena. The university competed in DARPA’s 2004 Grand Challenge, the first long-distance competition for driverless cars. And since 1984, the university’s Navlab group has been building computer-controlled vehicles. So if anyone organization can build an autonomous flying vehicle, it’s probably CMU. But in 17 months? We are curious to see what the university can put together in that amount of time.

Ariel Schwartz can be reached on Twitter or by email.AS