DARPA Creates the Fast Lightweight Autonomy Program
Press Release, DARPA | July 18, 2018
The Defense Advanced Research Agency (DARPA) has created the Fast Lightweight Autonomy Program (FLA), a new class of algorithms for quick drone navigation in cluttered environments. DARPA is working with MIT, and the University of Pennsylvania’s Draper Laboratory to develop FLA algorithms for use with robots and drones to perform tasks dangerous for humans, including pre-mission reconnaissance on the battlefield or in a hostile urban setting. Specifically, DARPA successfully completed flight tests in urban outdoor and indoor flight scenarios, including:
- Flying at increased speeds between multi-story buildings and through tight alleyways while identifying objects of interest;
- Flying through a narrow window into a building and down a hallway searching rooms and creating a 3-D map of the interior; and
- Identifying and flying down a flight of stairs and exiting the building through an open doorway.
“The outstanding university and industry research teams working on FLA honed algorithms that in the not too distant future could transform lightweight, commercial-off-the-shelf air or ground unmanned vehicles into capable operational systems requiring no human input once you’ve provided a general heading, distance to travel, and specific items to search,” said J.C. Ledé, DARPA program manager. “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.”
The next step in the FLA Program is to pack even more computation onto smaller platforms, potentially making a smart unmanned aerial vehicle for troops or first responders that is small enough to fit in the palm of the hand. DARPA has scheduled the transition of FLA algorithms to the Army Research Laboratory for further development for potential military applications.