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DARPA sprints toward unmanned air and ground swarming

November 30, 2017  - By

DARPA’s OFFensive Swarm-Enabled Tactics (OFFSET) program envisions future small-unit infantry forces using small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) or small unmanned ground systems (UGS) in swarms of 250 robots or more to accomplish diverse missions in complex urban environments.

By leveraging and combining emerging technologies in swarm autonomy and human-swarm teaming, the program seeks to enable rapid development and deployment of breakthrough capabilities to the field.

DARPA has awarded Phase 1 contracts to teams led by Raytheon BBN Technologies and Northrop Grumman Corporation.

Image: DARPA

Image: DARPA

Swarm Tactics. Both teams will serve as a swarm systems integrators tasked with designing, developing and deploying an open architecture for swarm technologies in physical and virtual environments.

Each system would include an extensible game-based architecture to enable design and integration of swarm tactics, a swarm tactics exchange to foster community interaction, immersive interfaces for collaboration among teams of humans and swarm systems, and a physical testbed to validate developed capabilities.

The teams will be responsible for experimentation and systems-integration efforts for realizing swarm capabilities, including producing tactics and technologies to test on its respective architecture.

Swarm Sprints. DARPA also aims to engage with a wider developer and user audience through rapid technology-development and integration efforts called swarm sprints. Participants in these experiments — sprinters — can work with one or both integration teams and each other to create and test their own novel swarm tactics and enabling technologies.

Roughly every six months, DARPA plans to solicit proposals from potential sprinters, with each swarm sprint focusing on one of five thrust areas: swarm tactics, swarm autonomy, human-swarm teaming, virtual environment and physical testbed.

The end of each sprint would coincide with physical and virtual capability-based experiments designed to test and assess integration of the thrust-specific OFFSET technologies. The experiments would also provide direct engagement between DARPA, the teams and sprinters, and warfighters who could help further tailor OFFSET capabilities to meet real-world operational needs.

“The swarm sprints are empirical experiments designed to accelerate our understanding of what swarms can do in urban environments,” said Timothy Chung, program manager in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office. “By having swarm sprints at regular intervals, we’re able to ensure that we’re keeping up with the latest technologies — and are in fact helping inform and advance those technologies — to better suit the needs of the OFFSET program. Given the wide range of capabilities that we’re interested in, we’re looking for wherever those innovative solutions are going to come from, whether they be small businesses, academic institutions or large corporations.”

About the Author: Tracy Cozzens

Senior Editor Tracy Cozzens joined GPS World magazine in 2006. She also is editor of GPS World’s newsletters and the sister website Geospatial Solutions. She has worked in government, for non-profits, and in corporate communications, editing a variety of publications for audiences ranging from federal government contractors to teachers.