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Watch DARPA's tiny drone do 45 MPH indoors, autonomously

... and then crash into countless expensive pieces.
Timothy J. Seppala, @timseppala
February 12, 2016
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DARPA

It's been a bit since we last saw DARPA's bird-of-prey inspired drone system, but the government's mad science wing hasn't been sitting idle. The Fast Lightweight Autonomy program recently took one of its drones on an indoor test flight where there little quadrocopter that could zoomed around a cluttered warehouse in a Cape Cod Air Force base at 45 MPH -- the target speed and environment the outfit was aiming for back in 2014.

DARPA says that the UAV uses a commercial DJI Flamewheel fitted with a 3DR Pixhawk autopilot for the airframe, among other adornments. Perhaps most impressive is that this unit is able to hit speed even carrying sonar, inertia sensors and an HD camera on such a small frame. Oh, and the demo flight in the video below was entirely autonomous. That's right, zero pilots were involved in getting the drone around the stacks of boxes and whatnot here.

Members of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA) Fast Lightweight Autonomy (FLA) program used the 102nd Intelligence Wing's hangar to test small UAVs in an indoor, controlled environment.

The next step? Advancing the onboard algorithms further so DARPA can extend the drone's range as well as "compensate for the vehicle's mass," thus enabling super tight turns and other quick maneuvers at equally fast speeds. Program manager Mark Micire says that what makes FLA unique is that it hits the balance between size, speed and capabilities, whereas others are limited to only one of the three simultaneously. It's what makes the program so challenging for a drone with "limited computing power to perform a complex mission completely autonomously," Micire says.

DARPA mentions that as advancements are made, the Massachusetts training course will grow more complex. Watch the entire clip embedded below if you're a fan of expensive toys crashing into countless pieces.

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