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ONR-funded research takes flight in Popular Science article

ARLINGTON, Va.The Office of Naval Research (ONR) is looking at birds' perceptual and maneuvering abilities as inspiration for small unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) autonomy, and Popular Science is featuring this effort in its August issue, posted online July 25.

An ONR-funded, five-year Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) program is examining the control and behavioral processes of birds and other small animals when flying at high speeds through complex environments, such as forests or urban settings. Researchers are trying to understand why birds make particular flight path choices and how they can do so quickly at higher speeds than would be safe for current engineered air systems in these environments.

The goal is to develop and successfully demonstrate a small aircraft that can navigate obstacles in very complex and unstructured surroundings, while maintaining speeds as fast as 5 meters per second. The theoretical results being developed may also be applicable to larger UAVs for particular tasks, such as landing at difficult, unprepared sites.

"Autonomous systems technology can be a great way to deliver increased capability to the Navy and Marine Corps at an affordable price," said Marc Steinberg, a research program officer in ONR's Science of Autonomy Program. "We can provide warfighters with a lot more flexibility and enable new mission performance, from flight under a forest canopy and in urban canyons to damage control applications onboard ships. Flying animals provide evidence it is possible to build compact platforms with limited sensing that can safely move through challenging environments."

In the lab, researchers set up an artificial forest with tall pipes serving as trees at Har

Contact: Peter Vietti
Office of Naval Research

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