DARPA tests drones to operate without human, GPS assistance

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is looking to advance technology through the creation of small unmanned drones, according to an agency news release.

These quadcopters just finished undergoing the first phase of the Fast Lightweight Autonomy, or FLA, program where three teams of researchers underwent a series of flight tests conducted over a four-day period. Using on-board cameras and sensors as "eyes," the UAVs are able to fly through difficult environments at speeds reaching 45 miles per hour.

The goal is for the quadcopters to safely and quickly scan for threats, thereby eliminating some of the risks and uncertainties involved with sending troops into unfamiliar and dangerous areas.

The program is also looking to find ways that UAVs can continue to operate unmanned in areas without GPS access, said JC Ledé, the FLA program manager.

"The goal of FLA is to develop advanced algorithms to allow unmanned air or ground vehicles to operate without the guidance of a human tele-operator, GPS, or any datalinks going to or coming from the vehicle," he said.

The first phase of the program took three elements from previous experiments to test the abilities of the quadcopters to withstand real-world conditions and test the algorithm abilities.

But the final day was the real test. The aircraft was to fly through a heavily forested area, across an aircraft parking apron, find an open door, maneuver in a dark hanger, locate its target — a chemical barrel — and fly back to the beginning completely unmanned. The UAVs would get lost on occasion, pausing before flying back to the beginning as programmed.

The article indicates that the success of the UAV is largely a matter of programming, although the project is not looking to develop new sensors or solve unmanned-navigation and obstacle-avoidance challenges. Rather, the project was looking to "use inexpensive initial measurement units and off-the-shelf quadcopters with limited weight capacity," putting an emphasis on creating new algorithms that will work at high speeds without needing copious amounts of power, Ledé said.

Recommended for you
Around The Web