The U.S. will soon unveil a new type of machinery for manufacturing parts for drones.
The Pentagon has been working to develop the new “Duroc” technology since 2014, when the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) gave DARPA the option of using its Advanced Aerospace Vehicles Manufacturing Facility in Dayton, Ohio, to build the machine tools for drones and other vehicles.
The DARPA contract is for the first of a number of similar machines that the Pentagon hopes will replace the current tooling systems in the future.
It also marks the beginning of a new phase in the effort, which began in earnest with DARPA’s original $400 million purchase of “the first drone assembly facility,” in 2021.
DARPA has since expanded the program to include the acquisition of a second drone assembly plant, this time at a nearby facility.
While the first Duroc facility was shuttered last year, DARPA officials hope that the next one will be able to create its own tooling for drones, which are still in the early stages of development.
Duroc has been in the works for at least three years, with initial plans to start producing machines for drones in 2021 and the machines’ first production vehicles by 2022.
A Duroc tool is used to remove the base of a drone, after it is dropped onto a test platform, in this still image taken from video released by DARPA on January 30, 2020.
The first Durocs will likely be used in production for drones that can be programmed to autonomously operate autonomously.
This is an important step because the Duroc machines are not capable of operating autonomously, but instead require human operators.
The Durociks are able to autonomly operate because they use a combination of computer vision and robotics to guide the drones.
This new type, called the Duroc Machine, is the product of a $3 billion, multiyear program by DARpa and Lockheed Martin, which is a joint venture between the U.K.-based defense contractor and the aerospace giant.
The Duroco is an extension of the Durobry, which was originally built to create a replacement for the previously-existing “durobo” tool for assembling parts for small, lightweight aircraft.
The current Durobo tool, which requires operators to be on the same level as the operator, requires an operator to be in the same position as the machine and is only used in small parts, such as nuts and bolts.
The new tool will be much lighter and more agile.DARpa says it will begin to roll out the new Duroca in 2018, with a production vehicle slated to begin in 2021, with the machines being used for parts for the drones being assembled.
“The Duroc represents a new generation of unmanned vehicle technology that combines the capability of a conventional tool to assemble a vehicle assembly system with the flexibility and accuracy of a computer controlled system,” said Chris Cox, DARpa’s deputy program manager.
“The Durogra allows us to provide advanced safety and reliability and make the Duroga one of the most powerful, lightweight and flexible unmanned vehicle systems in production today.”
The Durodro machines are expected to be capable of lifting the weight of a Boeing 737 with just five kilograms (about 12 pounds) of cargo, the company says.
The machine will be designed to be lightweight and maneuverable in air and water.
The company says that the Durodroc machine is the first in a series of “quadrotor-style” systems designed to replace the old, bulky and expensive Durobots, which have been used to build vehicles such as the Boeing 737, the Airbus A330 and the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
Darpa says that it has already begun work with Boeing to integrate the Duobro with the company’s Dreamliner and Airbus A320 aircraft, which the company hopes to have ready for delivery in 2021 or 2022.
“We have built a great partnership with Boeing, and we are proud to offer these products to the world,” said Rob Jones, vice president of development for Durobot, in a statement.
“We look forward to working with Boeing on their future products and look forward for many years to come.”