The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency began soliciting proposals March 30 for the upcoming second phase of its drone swarm program, OFFSET, which seeks to create focused breakthroughs in small unmanned air and ground robot swarm technology.

The second phase, or swarm sprint, will solicit proposals focused on swarm autonomy, enabling small unmanned air and ground robots to operate in swarms of 250 or more.

“The focus on enhancing autonomy in operational contexts will further advance future swarming capabilities allowing the warfighter to outmaneuver our adversaries in these complex urban environments,” said Timothy Chung, program manager in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office.

The second OFFSET swarm sprint follows the rewarding of contracts to the first class of Swarm Sprinters including Lockheed Martin, SoarTech, Charles River Analytics, University of Maryland and Carnegie Mellon University. Those contracts, worth $363,505 with a $135,286 option, were announced in early March.

Every six months, DARPA expects to solicit proposals from potential “sprinters” ranging from academics to large corporations, which then will work to create and test unique swarm technology.

Each swarm sprint will focus on one of five areas: swarm tactics, swarm autonomy, human-swarm teaming, virtual environment, and physical-bed. The first sprint in February focused on tactics that would allow a commander to use swarms to prepare an urban area of operations for further operations by small-unit forces.

Unlike the extremely expensive drones currently found in most U.S. military ground units, like the AeroVironment Raven, swarms can consist entirely of inexpensive systems. A swarm can also lose many individual drones with little impact on its ability to accomplish its broader mission.

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