Teams of "swarm systems integrators" to develop UAS swarm infrastructure for US military



In an effort to help the U.S. military in urban combat, two teams of “swarm systems integrators” will look to develop a UAS swarm infrastructure, using funding from a multi-million-dollar contract that is part of the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency’s (DARPA) Offensive Swarm-Enabled Tactics (OFFSET) program.

The goal of the program is “to empower … troops with technology to control scores of unmanned air and ground vehicles at a time.”

The two teams will be responsible for developing the system infrastructure and integrating the work of the “sprint” teams, which will focus on swarm tactics, swarm autonomy, human-swarm teaming, physical experimentation and virtual environments.

The teams will be led by Northrop Grumman and Raytheon BBN, which is a key research and development arm of the Raytheon Company.

Julie A. Adams of OSU’s College of Engineering is a member of the team led by Raytheon BBN, and she is the only university-based principal investigator on either team.

“I specifically will work on swarm interaction grammar – how we take things like flanking or establishing a perimeter and create a system of translations that will allow someone to use those tactics,” Adams explains.

“We want to be able to identify algorithms to go with the tactics and tie those things together, and also identify how operators interact with the use of a particular tactic.”

Adams continues, “our focus is on the individuals who will be deployed with the swarms, and our intent is to develop enhanced interactive capabilities: speech, gestures, a head tilt, tactile interaction. If a person is receiving information from a swarm, he might have a belt that vibrates.

“We want to make the interaction immersive and more understandable for humans and enable them to interact with the swarm.”

Adams, who is the associate director for deployed systems and policy at the college’s Collaborative Robotics and Intelligent Systems Institute, points out that last summer, China launched a record swarm of 119 fixed-wing UAS, but she also points out that right now, they “don’t have the infrastructure available for testing the capabilities of large swarms.”

“Advances have been made with indoor systems, including accurately tracking individual swarm members and by using simulations,” Adams says. “Those are good first steps but they don’t match what will happen in the real world. Those approaches allow for testing and validation of some system aspects but they don’t allow for full system validation.”

The goal of the integrators is to make sure that operators can interact with the swarm as a whole, or subgroups of the swarm, as opposed to individual agents. Adams says that what the agents do as a whole is “much more interesting” than what they do individually, comparing a UAS swarm to a school of fish acting in unison in response to a predator.

“We’ve got these ‘primitives’” – basic actions a swarm can execute – “and we’ll map these primitives to algorithms for the individual agents in the swarm, and determine how humans can interact with the swarm based on all of these things,” Adams says.

“We want to advance and accelerate enabling swarm technologies that focus on swarm autonomy and how humans can interact and team with the swarm.” 

Researchers envision swarms of more than 250 autonomous vehicles that can work together to gather information and help troops in “concrete canyon” surroundings, where buildings impair line-of-sight, satellite-based communication. Those vehicles would include multi-rotor UAS and ground rovers.

The information collected by the swarms could help keep U.S. troops safer, as well as civilians in the battle areas.