DARPA plans to develop unmanned swarm tactics in new OFFSET program
ARLINGTON, Va. To help combat small-unit combat forces operating in urban environments, DARPA officials launched the OFFensive Swarm-Enabled Tactics (OFFSET) program, which seeks to develop and demonstrate 100 plus operationally relevant swarm tactics that could be used by groups of unmanned air and/or ground systems numbering more than 100 robots.
The value of unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) and unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) to ground troops could be amplified if troops could control swarms of robotic units at the same time. The main challenge to achieve this goal is for the systems to become increasingly capable and affordable, say officials. To top it off, U.S. military forces lack the technologies to manage and interact with these types of swarms as well as the means to quickly develop and share swarm tactics suitable for urban situations.
“With the technologies and tactics to be developed under OFFSET, we anticipate achieving a deeper understanding of how large numbers of increasingly autonomous air and ground robots can be leveraged to benefit urban warfighters,” says Timothy Chung, DARPA program manager. “We aim to provide the tools to quickly generate swarm tactics, evaluate those swarm tactics for effectiveness, and integrate the best swarm tactics into field operations. If we’re successful, this work could also bring entirely new scalable, dynamic capabilities to the battlefield, such as distributed perception, robust and resilient communications, dispersed computing and analytics, and adaptive collective behaviors.”
OFFSET program officials plan to offer frequent opportunities for engagement with anticipated end-users in the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps and would share successfully tested swarm tactics with them on a rolling basis.
In order to accomplish these goals, OFFSET seeks to develop an active swarm tactics development ecosystem and supporting open systems architecture, including:
- A human-swarm interface that will enable users to monitor and direct potentially hundreds of unmanned platforms simultaneously in real-time. To achieve this, engineers intend to leverage emerging immersive and intuitive interactive technologies - such as augmented and virtual reality, voice-, gesture-, and touch-based - to create a command interface with immersive situational awareness and decision presentation capabilities. The idea is to also incorporate a swarm interaction grammar to the interface, similar in concept to athletic playbook that are prepared with pre-made plays combined with “freestyle” design tools that allow dynamic action and reaction based on real-time conditions in the field.
- A real-time, networked virtual environment that would support a physics-based, swarm tactics game. In the game, players would use the interface to rapidly explore, evolve, and evaluate swarm tactics to see which would potentially work best on various unmanned platforms in the real world. Users could submit swarm tactics and track their performance from test rounds on a leaderboard, as well as dynamically interact with other users.
- A community-driven swarm tactics exchange. This curated, limited access program portal would house apps to help participants design swarm tactics and combine collective behaviors, as well as swarm algorithms. It would provide these key ingredients to an extensible architecture for end-user-generated swarm tactics and help create a lasting community to innovate and cultivate the most effective tactics, with the potential to integrate third-party tactics and playtesters in the future.
Engineers of the program plan to demonstrate the technologies through live experiments with various unmanned air and ground platforms. Every six months, operational vignettes of progressively increasing complexity would challenge both the swarm architecture and the developed swarm tactics across numerous technological and operational test variables, such as swarm size, proportion of air and ground platforms, and mission duration. Users would employ the swarm interface to test the best of the virtual tactics in the real world, and interactively supply their unmanned platforms with near-real-time tactics updates using automated deployment technologies.
“We’re interested in developing practical swarm systems in an agile way, so future operators will have the tools they need to outsmart and outperform urban adversaries,” Chung says.
A Proposers Day is scheduled for Monday, January 30, 2017, at DARPA’s offices in Arlington, Virginia. To attend and receive more information advance registration is required at http://ow.ly/ANZX306573t. Additional details about the event are provided in a Special Notice: http://go.usa.gov/x8WCa.
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