The aim of DARPA’s Tactically Expandable Maritime Platform is to link shipping containers to form whatever shape you desire – useful for emergency helicopter landings or creating platforms for crane use. The GRASP Lab at UPenn, which is famous for their use of quadrotors, has taken the lead on research for the project.

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The scaled-down containers in the video use a hook-and-tether mechanism to grab and hold onto each other, similar to what the full-size containers will use at sea. The tension in each connection can be adjusted individually, to account for the turbulence of waves or weight on the containers themselves. High-tension connections keep the containers close together and the whole structure crack-free for driving things over, while low-tension connections allow the containers to rise and fall with the sea in conditions where a rigid platform would be destroyed.

The researchers simply give the system a desired shape, and the containers figure out what orientation and order to position themselves in. In this simulation, a vision system is used to identify the position and orientation of each ship in the water, but out at sea, the containers will use GPS.

In what ways do you think this will be useful in the future? Let us know with a comment below.