SWARMS Project: Swarming Drones to Sting the Enemy?
Like a swarm of angry bees, unmanned aerial, ground, and sea vehicles automonously converge on enemy troops, aircraft and ships, decide what to do, then engage the enemy with surveillance or weapons to help U.S. forces defeat them. All this without direct human intervention. Sounds like science fiction? The American military is one of several working on the technology, called “swarming,” in order to make this scenario a reality.
According to the SWARMS project at the University of Pennsylvania, future military missions will rely on large, networked groups of small unmanned vehicles and sensors. Groups of this type will typically operate with little or no direct human supervision most of the time. It will be very difficult, if not impossible, to guarantee individual management or control in the kind of dynamic, resource-constrained, adversarial environments that characterize human warfare. Managing such large groups will thus be extremely challenging, and will require the application of new, yet-to-be-developed methods of communication, control, computation and sensing, specifically tailored to the command and control of large-scale, autonomous vehicle groups.
DID has more on a recent NAVAIR contract, and the swarm concept…
In pursuit of this bold vision, the U.S. Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) recently awarded a $1.5 million contract (N00421-07-D-0023) to Augusta Systems in Morgantown, WV to test and enhance a distributed, intelligent network capable of managing single and multiple swarms of unmanned air, ground and sea vehicles, unattended ground sensors, video cameras, and other devices.
Powered by Augusta Systems EdgeFrontier products, the intelligent network would enable the vehicles and devices to act on their own, in an autonomous manner, based upon data sent from their own swarm or other swarms. Through the contract, Augusta Systems will support testing and development of enhancements to the intelligent network, which will need to support the following capabilities for swarming:
- Diverse vehicle, sensor and device data integration, correlation and processing;
- Adaptive, cooperative behavior on-board the vehicles and at the point of the sensors and devices through third-party swarming software;
- Relay of requested data to multiple users from multiple vehicles, sensors and devices; and
- Intelligent communication, independent of user operations.
Patrick Esposito, president and chief operating officer of Augusta Systems, explains more about the contract and the swarming concept:
“Augusta Systems is serving as the integrator. We are utilizing our EdgeFrontier middleware on-board the vehicles [that function as communication nodes] and at the point of the sensors and cameras to enable the intelligent network, which connects the nodes. Swarming algorithms developed by our partner Vector Research Center [formerly New Vectors], which enable the collaborative behavior between the nodes, are driven by digital pheromone-based maps of the area in which the swarms are operating. This is similar to the reasoning used by insects, which was the inspiration for the swarming concept. So, for example, the swarming algorithm, independent of human intervention, determines where a camera needs to look, where a UAV needs to fly, etc. EdgeFrontier takes the instructions from the algorithm and turns them into commands for the camera, UAV, etc. EdgeFrontier also collects data from the nodes and feeds that data into the algorithm as feedback so it can make decisions about what the swarm needs to do next. EdgeFrontier also manages the communications between the nodes. In other words, our EdgeFrontier software sits in the middle between the nodes and between the nodes and the swarming algorithm.
“All of these features, working together, enable this dynamic swarming system where, for example, a sensor detects something, a UAV automatically responds to take pictures, an unmanned ground vehicle automatically responds to the UAV’s picture data, and all the other UAVs automatically reposition themselves to make up for the UAV that left its position to respond to the sensor data. All of this would occur without human intervention.”
Additional Readings & Sources
- University of Pennyslvania – SWARMS Project
- Wikipedia – Swarm Development Group
- Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center San Diego – UUVs – Distributed Surveillance Sensor Network (DSSN)
- DID (Jan 28/09) – In the Loop? Armed Robots and the Future of War. Guest article by the Brookings Institution’s P.W. Singer, who looks at the trend toward robotic autonomy, its driving forces, and the issues it raises. Will humans remain “in the loop”? And what if they don’t?
- DID (Aug 28/08) – UAMS Experiment Brings Deconfliction Closer for Smaller UAVs
- Johns Hopkis APL Technical Digest (2006, vol. 27, no. 1) – Flight Demonstrations of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Swarming Concepts by Robert J. Bamberger Jr., David P. Watson, David H. Scheidt, and Kevin L. Moore
- DARPA Tech 2005 – The Network as a Weapon
- Proceedings of International Conference on Artificial Intelligence (IC-AI 2005) – Hexmoor et. al. – Swarm Control in Unmanned Aerial Vehicles [Google HTML | PDF file]
- DID (Dec 6/05) – UUV Swarms to Find Submarines?
- DID (Nov 15/05) – Will UAV Proliferation Create Unfriendly Skies for Other Aircraft?
- DID (May 11/05) – $20M to Develop UAV Swarm Technologies
- GizMag (March 20/05) – New software allows a flock of UAVs to work together. Describes work at NASA to investigate cooperative flight strategies for airborne monitoring and surveillance of natural disasters, aid to wildfire suppression crews, and atmospheric sampling. For the tests, NASA used the Piccolo autopilot system and global positioning system (GPS) transmitters to enable a pair of RnR Products APV-3 UAVs to maneuver responsively in relation to each other.
- Military Aerospace Technology (March 16/05) – Swarming UAVs | Intellibriefs copy.
- Velocity Magazine (Dec 2004) – On the Edge of Chaos
- UAV World (Jan 2004) – Next Step for UAV Swarm Concept
- RAND Paper (2000) – Swarming and the Future of Conflict by John Arquilla, David Ronfeldt