The goal of the FLA program is to explore non-traditional perception and autonomy methods that could enable a new class of algorithms for minimalistic high-speed navigation in cluttered environments. Through this exploration, the program aims to develop and demonstrate the capability for small (i.e., able to fit through windows) autonomous UAVs to fly at speeds up to 20 m/s (45 mph) with no communication links to the operator and without GPS guidance. The FLA program is demonstrating a sequence of novel capabilities, beginning with lower-clutter, fly-by missions and progressing to higher-clutter, fly-through missions.
Potential applications for the technology include safely and quickly scanning for threats inside a building before military teams enter, searching for a downed pilot in a heavily forested area or jungle in hostile territory where overhead imagery can’t see through the tree canopy, or locating survivors following earthquakes or other disasters when entering a damaged structure could be unsafe.
The program focuses on autonomy and not on the flight platform, where “autonomy” includes sensing, perception, planning, and control. Autonomous flight capabilities are being developed and demonstrated using custom payloads on small commercial airframes.
Phase 1 of DARPA’s Fast Lightweight Autonomy (FLA) program concluded in Spring 2017 following a series of obstacle-course flight tests in central Florida. The program conducted Phase 2 flight testing in Georgia in June 2018, where teams demonstrated flight through tight indoor spaces, urban outdoor environments, and cluttered natural scenes.
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