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Real-life transformer drone can switch between a helicopter and a truck

It’s not quite on the level of Optimus Prime, but the AT Black Knight Transformer is still an impressive vehicle nonetheless: it can take to the skies using 8 rotor blades as well as drive through the toughest terrain thanks to the four heavy-duty wheels underneath.

Or at least that’s the plan: its maker Advanced Tactics hasn’t tested the flying capabilities of the vehicle yet, though trial runs are scheduled for the start of 2014. The AT Black Knight Transformer has been put through its paces on land, with the helicopter-style blades folding into the sides of the machine while it’s on the ground.

The vehicle is being developed with the cooperation of the U.S. Army, which is keen to get its hands on a land/air evacuation drone that can get into tight spots without putting the lives of pilots at risk. Automated robot-driven machines like this one can get through weather or contaminated environments that would be hazardous to humans in order to reach the stranded and wounded.

Eventually the Black Knight could be used for cargo delivery as well, chief engineer Rustom Jehangir told Popular Science. “[The army has] done work on this in the past with other platforms, such as the Lockheed Martin K-Max, but our platform will be much less expensive.”

Once the vehicle has picked up passengers, they can take over the controls to drive or fly their way back to safety. One of the clever tricks employed by the Black Knight Transformer is the computerized feedback system that controls its rotor blades, which is much simpler and less expensive than the articulated mechanical systems used in conventional helicopters. What’s more, each of the 8 propulsion engines can be replaced in the field.

“The Black Knight Transformer is designed for autonomous casualty evacuation and manned or unmanned cargo resupply missions,” says the official Advanced Tactics press release. “Its unmanned capabilities keep pilots out of harm’s way, making it the safest casualty evacuation option. The interior volume is comparable to a Blackhawk helicopter, making it well-suited for cargo missions as well.”

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