According to Fox News, DARPA has a new Fast Lightweight Autonomy Program (FLA) that aims to create small, fast drones that would be able to fly through a building’s windows and then zip around the inside of the structure, all while independently navigating and gathering intelligence.
This would mean that typical tactics used by insurgents, terrorists, and criminals such as hiding inside buildings or keeping hostages hidden would be rendered ineffective.
The focus for these drones will be speed and maneuverability. They will be able to cover 20 meters per second, which means they will be fast enough for tactical operations. DARPA has been studying birds of prey and insects to develop autonomous flight mechanisms that allow the drones to adeptly maneuver at such speeds.
The goal is to create algorithms that will make it feasible for these drones to be able to navigate tight spaces such as rooms, corridors, and stairways by themselves by giving them the ability to recognize potential barriers or obstacles.
Having this type of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) could prove very advantageous to military units and first responders, especially those that would operate in urban environments.
Presently, tactical teams must rely on UAV’s that are piloted remotely to give an analysis of any threats not visible from the ground. Flying overhead, the current generation of UAV can provide information that while useful, is quite limited in nature.
For example, if the tactical scenario required a hostage rescue, team members would have to physically enter a building to determine where enemies were holed up or where hostages were being held. This requires a high degree of on-the-ground risk.
An autonomous drone could actually enter a protected building, successfully navigate the interior, and gather important information, such as the exact location of insurgents or hostages. All of this could be done without risking a single life to procure intelligence.
In terms of practicality, any drone developed by the FLA program needs to be small, lightweight, extremely fast and maneuverable, and have minimal power requirements.
As projected, these drones are expected to have an operational range of approximately 3000 feet and an effective usage time of about 10 minutes.
If the programming is successful for these aerial drones, it creates the potential for similar ground for underwater unmanned vehicles. These could be useful in areas where GPS is limited or unavailable.