The Future of Drones

By Nishat Khan

Being a part of the military poses many dangers to our troops. Not only does fighting put many brave men and women on the fine line between life and death, but so does going through the aftermath of disastrous attacks. Looking for survivors comes with its own variety of perils, including the possibility of stepping on a bomb that could blow you to bits, or getting lost yourself in the rubble of a war zone.

These dangers are not something that the government has overlooked. To decrease these risks, a Pentagon agency is developing a surveillance “robo-hawk” that could fly through debris of combat at about 45 mph.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA for short, aims to develop drones that are big enough to fly through an open window and throughout any sort of dilapidation. DARPA has successfully developed drones in the past, and chances are, they can do it again, but this time, on a much smaller scale than their previous “war-robots.”

As a part of the Fast Lightweight Autonomy program, a military brief, this study looks at various algorithms to allow unmanned aerial vehicles to be truly unmanned, letting a small drone navigate its way through debris without someone remotely controlling it.

DARPA’s program manager, Mark Micire, said that the goal of the FLA program is to “explore non-traditional perception and autonomy methods that would give small UAVs the capacity to perform in a similar way [to an insect], including an ability to easily navigate tight spaces at high speed and quickly recognize if it had already been in a room before.”

DARPA has said that once the algorithms are refined, it could potentially enhance other unmanned missions to the depths of the ocean where GPS systems don’t work.

This idea is quickly becoming a reality, with the Army Research Laboratory in Maryland quickly developing robotic surveillance insects with a wing span of 3-5 cm. The head of the team, Dr. Ron Polcawich, has said that they can create lift so the device can actually fly. He also said that it would take another 10-15 years of research before the robots are fully functional and prepared for army use.

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These new and improved drones may be the way to save many more of our troops’ lives, and may be the way to better protect our country.

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