DARPA program seeks way to control drone 'swarms' from the ground

DARPA's latest program, the OFFensive Swarm-Enabled Tactics (OFFSET) effort, aims to find a solution for easily controlling large swarms of drones from the ground, with these 'swarms' being composed of at least 100 units. The defensive research agency envisions these swarms of drones — which could also feature ground robots when necessary — being used for all sorts of things: gathering intelligence, surveillance, offering protection, wielding firepower, and more. The Marine Corps and U.S. Army are the intended recipients of such technology.

According to DARPA, the development of the actual UAVs that would comprise these swarms isn't the issue. Rather, ground troops need an easy way to control and manage these mass quantities of aerial vehicles, including passing on commands to them. As such, the OFFSET program is seeking more than 100 "operationally relevant" tactics that could be used for all varieties of purposes, including those listed above.

Explaining the program, DARPA program manager Timothy Chung said:

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. 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.

DARPA plans for the technology to be tested with live drone swarms every six months, with each testing challenge being used to evaluate the suitability of the technologies, including swarm algorithms, as they grow. Once the technologies are developed, the ultimate duration of which isn't clear, battlefields could feature massive inspect-like swarms of machines to aid their human masters.