DARPA program seeks teams to innovate in unmanned "swarm" systems

ARLINGTON, Va. The Defense Advance Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is seeking teams to propose on its OFFensive Swarm-Enabled Tactics (OFFSET) program -- which envisions future small-unit infantry forces using small unmanned aircraft systems (UASs) and/or small unmanned ground systems (UGSs) in swarms of 250 robots or more to accomplish diverse missions in complex urban environments -- in an effort to enable rapid development and deployment of breakthrough capabilities to the field.

Roughly every six months, plans to solicit proposals from potential participants --DARPA calls them "sprinters," in concert with the planned rapid pace of the project -- with each swarm sprint focusing on one of five thrust areas: swarm tactics, swarm autonomy, human-swarm teaming, virtual environment, and physical testbed.

Each team will serve as a swarm systems integrator which will design, develop, and deploy an open architecture for swarm technologies in physical and virtual environments. Each system would include an extensible game-based architecture to enable design and integration of swarm tactics, a swarm tactics exchange to foster community interaction, immersive interfaces for collaboration among teams of humans and swarm systems, and a physical testbed to validate developed capabilities.

Each team will be responsible for experiments and systems-integration efforts toward fulfilling the capabilities of its swarm. At the end of each technology sprint, the teams would perform physical and virtual capability-based experiments designed to test and assess integration of the thrust-specific OFFSET technologies. The experiments would be run in concert between DARPA, the technology teams, and warfighters who could help further tailor OFFSET capabilities to meet real-world operational needs.

“The swarm sprints are empirical experiments designed to accelerate our understanding of what swarms can do in urban environments,” said Timothy Chung, program manager in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office (TTO). “By having swarm sprints at regular intervals, we're able to ensure that we're keeping up with the latest technologies -- and are in fact helping inform and advance those technologies -- to better suit the needs of the OFFSET program. Given the wide range of capabilities that we’re interested in, we're looking for wherever those innovative solutions are going to come from, whether they be small businesses, academic institutions, or large corporations.”

DARPA is actively recruiting participants for the first core sprint now. The focus of this initial effort is the generation of swarm tactics for a mixed swarm of 50 air and ground robots to isolate an urban objective within an area of two square city blocks over a mission duration of 15 to 30 minutes. Teams should address the areas of reconnaissance, identifying ingress and egress points, and establishing a perimeter around an area of operation.

Instructions for submitting a proposal seeking to participate in the first core swarm sprint, as well as full OFFSET program details, are available on the Federal Business Opportunities website: https://go.usa.gov/xRhPC. Proposals are due at 5:00 p.m. Eastern time on Wednesday, November 29, 2017.

DARPA’s OFFensive Swarm-Enabled Tactics (OFFSET) program envisions future small-unit infantry forces using small unmanned aircraft systems (UASs) and/or small unmanned ground systems (UGSs) in swarms of 250 robots or more to accomplish diverse missions in complex urban environments. By leveraging and combining emerging technologies in swarm autonomy and human-swarm teaming, the program seeks to enable rapid development and deployment of breakthrough capabilities to the field. Infographic courtesy DARPA.

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