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11:08 AM, July 20, 2018
DARPA’s FLA Autonomous Quadcopter Completes Phase 2 Flight Tests
Fast Lightweight Autonomy (Image source: DARPA)

The United States' Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) recently completed Phase 2 flight tests of its Fast Lightweight Autonomy (FLA) program demonstrating advanced algorithms performing real-world tasks without human assistance.

FLA performs tasks dangerous for humans – such as pre-mission reconnaissance in a hostile urban setting or searching damaged structures for survivors following an earthquake, DARPA said in a statement Wednesday.

Built on Phase 1 flight tests in 2017, researchers refined their software and adapted commercial sensors to achieve greater performance with smaller, lighter quadcopters. Aerial tests were conducted in a mock town of Georgia, showed significant progress in urban outdoor and indoor autonomous flight scenarios, the report stated.

“Unmanned systems equipped with FLA algorithms need no remote pilot, no GPS guidance, no communications link, and no pre-programmed map of the area – the onboard software, lightweight processor, and low-cost sensors do all the work autonomously in real-time,” said J C Ledé, DARPA program manager.

During Phase 2, a team of engineers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Draper Laboratory reduced the number of onboard sensors to lighten their air vehicle for higher speed.

“As the vehicle uses its sensors to quickly explore and navigate obstacles in unknown environments, it is continually creating a map as it explores and remembers any place it has already been so it can return to the starting point by itself,” said Jon How, the other MIT/Draper team co-leader.

A separate team of researchers from the University of Pennsylvania reduced the air vehicle’s size and weight to be able to fly autonomously in small, cluttered indoor spaces.

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