The US’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is investigating the principles of deployment and the framework conditions for swarms of unmanned land and air vehicles as part of the OFFensive Swarm-Enabled Tactics (OFFSET) programme. This envisages swarms of up to 250 collaborative autonomous systems providing ground forces with insights into their work in dense urban environments and is divided into five sections, which DARPA calls “Sprints”.
So far, the first four sprints: swarm tactics, swarm autonomy, human swarm teaming and virtual environment, which aim to promote rapid innovation and the continuous integration of the latest technologies, have been completed. The fifth sprint consists of two topics: physical testbed and another examination of swarm tactics. The technologies will be integrated into one or both of the OFFSET swarm system architectures and the innovative solutions will be further developed and demonstrated in relevant field tests planned for December 2020.
DARPA has placed orders with nine companies and university institutes in the fifth sprint with five physical testbed contractors focusing on accelerating the integration of hardware components and improvements to create compelling new swarm capabilities. These include: reducing swarm deployment time, introducing new sensors for navigation and perception, using aerodynamic fixed-wing aircraft in swarm operations and improving the mobility of wheeled vehicles for urban areas.
In the swarm tactics theme, four contractors focus on the design and implementation of additional tactics using a swarm of air and ground robots and address specific mission objectives such as “confiscation of key urban terrain within eight square city blocks over a mission duration of four to six hours”. Examples of proposed tactics include interrupting enemy decision-making, disguising the swarm’s intent, updating maps of a dynamic environment, and maintaining the swarm’s communication indoors.