The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is testing autonomous drones that can maneuver around obstacles at up to 45 mph. The devices are part of DARPA's FLA program, short for Fast Lightweight Autonomy, which is developing drones for disaster relief and military reconnaissance.
DARPA used a hodgepodge of different drone parts to create the UAVs, including a commercial DJI Flamewheel 450 frame and a 3D Robotics Pixhawk onboard autopilot system. In its first successful test, DARPA got its drones flying autonomously at the desired speed and also tested the drone's ability to "see" obstacles using cameras, inertia measurement devices, and LIDAR and sonar sensors. DARPA, alongside three independent research teams, is using a converted aircraft hangar in at Otis Air National Guard Base in Cape Cod, Massachusetts that will be made more cluttered and complex to further test the drones' autonomous capabilities.
"The FLA program is developing a new class of algorithms aimed at enabling small UAVs to quickly navigate a labyrinth of rooms, stairways and corridors or other obstacle-filled environments without a remote pilot," DARPA writes on its FLA program website. "The program seeks to develop and demonstrate autonomous UAVs small enough to fit through an open window and able to fly at speeds up to 20 meters per second (45 miles per hour) — while avoiding objects within complex indoor spaces independent of communication with outside operators or sensors and without reliance on GPS."