Embry-Riddle Gets $1M from DARPA for Enhanced UAV Flight Control

Researchers at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and Creare LLC have received a Phase II $1 million grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop an autonomous flight control system to navigate unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in environments such as crowded urban areas or dangerous situations.

Creare LLC is an engineering research and development firm with headquarters in Hanover, N.H. According to a press release from Embry-Riddle, the enhanced navigational system would incorporate recent developments in small, low-power and low-cost sensor technology and improved computer hardware without GPS, supported by a high-performance guidance, navigation and control (GNC) system.

“Potential uses for this technology include search and rescue missions or remote surveillance and assessment of conditions too hazardous for humans,” states Dr. Richard Prazenica, assistant professor of aerospace engineering and principal investigator at Embry-Riddle’s Daytona Beach, Fla., campus. “This intelligent, autonomous UAV could explore unmapped or unsafe environments to locate someone injured in an earthquake or assist and communicate with firefighters while gathering information as it moves through a smoke-filled building.”

The autonomous GNC system would include 3D terrain sensing capabilities using vision sensors and laser-based LiDAR sensors. Technology such as artificial intelligence-based flight control systems could compensate for disturbances such as wind gusts, moving objects and potential system failures, says the university.

“The UAV would be able to autonomously plan and execute a path by creating a three-dimensional map of any given environment to enable obstacle avoidance,” explains Prazenica. “This intelligent flying platform should, without a human operator, be able to simultaneously map and fly a mission to a specific location within a changing environment, regardless of visibility, to gather data and images or perhaps to deliver life-saving medical supplies.”

During the recently completed $150,000 Phase I grant, a Droidworx SkyJib X4 quadcopter drone was equipped with sensor equipment that included monocular, stereo and infrared cameras, a scanning LiDAR, and an inertial navigation system with GPS. This UAV served as a test platform for data collection during Phase I and would be used for GNC system development and validation during the Phase II program, says Embry-Riddle.

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