Unmanned

DARPA awards nine new contracts to foster drone swarm technology

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has issued nine new contracts to companies developing drone swarm technologies, the agency announced April 13.

Through the agency’s Offensive Swarm-Enabled Tactics program, or OFFSET, it hopes to foster technology developments that will enable 250 small unmanned air or ground robots to work together in support of the war fighter.

The program works in five main areas: swarm tactics, swarm autonomy, human-swarm teaming, virtual environment and physical test bed. The agency has hosted multiple swarm sprints to encourage rapid innovation in one or more of those areas.

The nine awards mark the fifth such swarm sprint, with this one focused on swarm tactics and physical test beds in an urban environment.

“The urban environment presents compelling challenges such as tall buildings, tight spaces, and limited sight lines,” Timothy Chung, the OFFSET program manager in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office, said in an agency news release. “Enhancing the Swarm Physical Testbeds that tackle those unique challenges is a desired goal of the OFFSET program.”

Four of the participants will be tackling the swarm tactics portion of the sprint, where they will be asked to solve problems such as “disrupting the opposition’s decision making, obfuscating swarm intent, updating maps of a dynamic environment, and maintaining the swarm’s communications indoors.”

The remaining five performers will work on the physical test bed thrust area, which includes reducing deployment times, utilizing new navigation sensors, incorporating fixed-wing aircraft into the swarm and enhancing mobility for robotic, wheeled vehicles in urban settings.

Participants will incorporate their technologies into the OFFSET swarm systems architecture to demonstrate their respective solutions, with field tests taking place in December 2020.

The recipients are as follows:

Thrust area: Physical test bed

  • Michigan Technological University/Michigan Tech Research Institute
  • Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory
  • HDT Expeditionary Systems, Inc.
  • Sentien Robotics
  • Texas A&M University

Thrust area: Swarm tactics

  • Michigan Technological University/Michigan Tech Research Institute
  • Charles River Analytics, Inc.
  • Soar Technology, Inc.
  • Northwestern University
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