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DARPA taking inspiration from birds of prey to create agile UAVs

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The US military would like to use small drones a lot more, especially to gather intelligence inside buildings and other structures. The problem? Most drones aren't fast or maneuverable in tight places, to the point that even a kangaroo can take one out. Enter DARPA: the gadget arm of the military has just created the Fast Lightweight Autonomy (FLA) program to build fully autonomous UAVs that can get through "a labyrinth of rooms, stairs and... other obstacle filled environments." The drones would also have to move at 45 miles per hour in complex spaces without relying on GPS waypoints -- which is where the birds of prey come in.

DARPA figures that since raptors like the Goshawk can dart through dense forests effortlessly, why not study them for drone design ideas? That could lead to algorithms that would let UAVs "easily navigate tight spaces at high speed and quickly recognize if it had already been in a room." It also wants the UAVs to be able to do all that with a minimum of calculation, communication and human action required. And though the program is strictly aimed at drones for now, DARPA thinks it could also be used in ground- and marine-based remote systems, especially when there's little-to-no GPS availability. That way, if a drone can't help in a tense situation, the military could always send in the Big Dogs.

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