DARPA Tests Deploy Swarm Drones to Control City Blocks

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Courtesy of DARPA

The Pentagon’s top think-tank is thinking up a new way to secure urban objectives – it’s all in the drone swarm.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has launched a new field experiment in the OFFensive Swarm-Enabled Tactics (OFFSET) program.

Teams of autonomous air and ground robots tested tactics on a mission to “isolate an urban objective” (translation – cut off one or more city blocks in a crisis situation)

“OFFSET envisions large swarms of collaborative autonomous systems providing critical insights to small ground military units in urban areas where vertical structures, tight spaces, and limited sight lines constrain communications and mobility,” a DARPA spokesperson said.

The program includes multiple “sprint” efforts, which focus on different elements of the command, control, and collaboration among large numbers of vehicles and people.

Teams took control of an area representing two city blocks during the most recent experiment at Fort Benning in Georgia.

Within 30 minutes, the team isolated a mock city-hall building, “locating and securing an objective inside … all while maintaining situational awareness of the surrounding area.”

OFFSET includes Swarm System Integrators and Swarm Sprinters.

Produced by Northrop Grumman and Raytheon BBN, Swarm System Integrators create OFFSET architectures, interfaces, and their respective Swarm Tactics Exchanges, which “houses tools to help performers design swarm tactics by composing collective behaviors, swarm algorithms, and existing swarm tactics.”

Swarm Sprinters perform focused tasks and deliver additional technologies to merge with system integrators.

“The pace of our scheduled experiments requires our performers to take risks” said Timothy Chung, the OFFSET program manager in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office. “Rapid integration demands that our swarm teams, both integrators and sprinters, develop smarter ways to improve their current processes.”

“The experiment at Fort Benning highlighted the benefits of continuous agile development and integration and deployment, the principle at the heart of the OFFSET program. The Swarm System Integrators showed maturation in field operations while the Swarm Sprinters contributed technologies to enhance system performance. The platform experimentation provided insights into the role of commercial-off-the-shelf technologies in a research and development program.”


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