The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), on behalf of the Defense Sciences Office (DSO), has announced intentions to award a sole source contract to KMel Robotics.
The acquisition is for platforms in anticipation of a new DARPA/DSO program called Fast Lightweight Autonomy (FLA). The program intends to develop novel representations and algorithms to enable small air platforms to fly fast (e.g., at least 20 m/s) in cluttered environments (e.g., indoors) using on-board autonomy with small size, weight, and power components.
To enable quantitative comparisons between different approaches to autonomy, the FLA program will require the use of identical platforms. DARPA will provide a platform as GFE to FLA performers selected under an anticipated FLA broad agency announcement.
KMel Robotics will be required to develop a platform with the following characteristics:
- A high-performance autopilot with bi-directional communication to custom closed-loop motor controllers, integrated low-level calibration software, and built-in sensor error detection and redundancy features
- Open interface that enables manual piloted control, autonomous control through an onboard computer or wireless communication module, vehicle configuration and tuning, and user customizable feedback of various sensor data from the autopilot
- Modular design enabling rapid replacement of components after a crash
- Modular design enabling the anticipated FLA performer teams to easily add their own processors, sensors, and other equipment to the platform
- Employing electric propulsion using multiple rotors in order to hover;
- Produce 3,600 g of thrust in order to achieve high speeds
- Exhibit a thrust to weight ratio above 3:1 with a 300g battery in order to achieve high maneuvering agility
- Measure under 28 in. from end to end with propeller guards in order to fit with at least 8 in. of margin through 36 in. windows.
In addition, KMel Robotics will be required to provide support to the anticipated FLA program performers using the platform; maintain the platforms; upgrade the platforms at least annually; and develop a baseline autonomous system to gain first-hand experience with the problem domain and apply that experience to platform improvements.
Editor’s Note: KMel Robotics was acquired by Qualcomm Technologies Inc. in Feb 2015.