2012-07-18

Co.Exist

DARPA's New Aid-Delivering Robot Paragliders

A new project to make dealing with humanitarian crises easier includes robot gliders that can deliver aid to crisis zones--and modules that can rapidly transform any private cargo container ship into a U.S. warship.

During future wars and civil disasters, the American military wants a way to quickly convert gigantic container ships into floating aid centers. Defense mega-contractor Raytheon’s new solution to the problem: A modular sea warehouse that can be built and deployed within 24 hours of a major emergency.

Raytheon today released preliminary designs for their Tactically Expandable Maritime Platform, or TEMP. TEMP is basically a improvised, MacGyver-style system for quickly transforming cargo container ships into massive sea infirmaries. As in so many MacGyver-style systems, it all comes down to paragliding robots.

Raytheon’s plan--made in conjunction with the military’s crazy tech wing DARPA--calls for heavy-duty unmanned robotic paragliders to deliver up to 3000 pounds of packages to shore and ship in order to avoid potentially dangerous helicopter or aircraft landings. The paraglider solution, called the ParaFoil Air Delivery System, was tested successfully in March. The unmanned, powered paragliders are designed to carry heavy pallets and can be assembled in “air bridges” of multiple vehicles, which then use a video system to determine a safe on-ship landing zone.

Once aid is on-ship, TEMP also uses modular cranes for delivery. TEMP’s cranes are designed for use in areas with limited port facilities. The cranes can be quickly built and dismantled, and then stored inside regular shipping containers. Raytheon also designed mobile command modules (also stored inside shipping containers) that can instantly connect to tracking systems while at sea.

TEMP Modular Cranes

According to Raytheon vice president Joe Biondi, “The magnitude of humanitarian crises often requires military support. At the same time, many of our country’s naval assets are committed to other missions […] With the TEMP system, Raytheon hopes to provide the U.S. Navy with the ability to both address humanitarian aid requirements and keep core naval assets focused on primary warfighting and training missions.”

DARPA’s tender for the project specifically states that it’s designed to relieve military ships from carrying out humanitarian aid work. Literature released by DARPA states that TEMP-equipped ships can be used to carry out humanitarian aid, while freeing up military ships to carry out “other military missions.” Information on the system’s cost and release date are not publicly available; the system is still in design mode with the exception of successful ParaFoil testing.

With DARPA involved, there is another military angle as well--one beyond simply freeing resources. The Register's Lewis Page noted that TEMP technology could easily be used to build floating fortresses by converting container ships into secure warships in a short period of time.

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