UAVs demonstrate collision avoidance & speed in DARPA FLA program

ARLINGTON, Va. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) engineers completed the first flight data collection with the common quadcopter unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) platform for the Fast Lightweight Autonomy (FLA) program at the Otis Air National Guard Base, Cape Cod in Massachusetts. Officials deemed the demonstration a success because the quadcopters were able to edge their way around obstacles and achieve their target speeds of 20 meters per second.

During testing, engineers also demonstrated initial autonomous capabilities that included , such as “seeing” obstacles and flying around them at slow speed unaided by remote control.

The test was performed by three teams in an aircraft hangar that was transformed into a warehouse setting with simulated walls, boxes, and other obstacles to test flight agility and speed. The test run also resulted in several crashes. The three performing teams were Draper, teamed with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; University of Pennsylvania; and Scientific Systems Company, Inc. (SSCI), teamed with AeroVironment.

The purpose of the FLA program is to develop and test that could reduce the amount of processing , , and human intervention needed for (UAVs) to accomplish low-level tasks, such as navigation around obstacles in a cluttered environment.

The technology used in the program could be useful in addressing surveillance shortfalls within the military, officials say. The could potentially know what’s going on inside an unstable building.

The program seeks to develop and demonstrate autonomous UAVs that can fit through an open window and able to fly at speeds up to 20 meters per second, while avoiding objects independent of communication with outside operators or sensors.

"The challenge for the teams now is to advance the algorithms and onboard computational efficiency to extend the UAVs’ perception range and compensate for the vehicles’ mass to make extremely tight turns and abrupt maneuvers at high speeds.” says Mark Micire, DARPA program manager. "What makes the FLA program so challenging is finding the sweetspot of a small size, weight, and power air vehicle with limited onboard computing power to perform a complex mission completely autonomously.”

The warehouse venue will be formatted with more complicated obstacles as the program continues to test its UAVs.

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