DARPA is making progress on their autonomous FLA program
These things are pretty interesting, and could really save lives, especially in MOUT-style operations. The only human input is the target image, a basic map, and a bearing to the search area, then the quad is off, in fully autonomous flight without GPS or remote control (RC) communication links.
Phase 1 of DARPA’s Fast Lightweight Autonomy (FLA) program concluded recently following a series of obstacle-course flight tests in central Florida. Over four days, three teams of DARPA-supported researchers huddled under shade tents in the sweltering Florida sun, fine-tuning their sensor-laden quadcopter unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) during the intervals between increasingly difficult runs. DARPA’s FLA program is advancing technology to enable small unmanned quadcopters to fly autonomously through cluttered buildings and obstacle-strewn environments at fast speeds (up to 20 meters per second, or 45 mph) using onboard cameras and sensors as “eyes” and smart algorithms to self-navigate.
And if you don’t think drones are the new thing in the modern battlefield, just look at the report below on how ISIS forces are using commercial quadcopters and the like around Rakka today.
Buy a Chinese-made RC copter, attach a mortar shell or hand grenade to an actuator, and you have a sub-$1K attack craft. Using swarms of these things, some local forces are reporting 10-15 drones strikes against them per day. The DGI Phantom is reportedly the go-to quad for the IS air corps for recon and attack.