Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Raytheon’s new swarm tech enables one person to operate hundreds of drones

Raytheon Intelligence & Space (RIS) recently supported the fifth OFFensive Swarm-Enabled Tactics (OFFSET), DARPA program field exercise.

During this field exercise, a single operator successfully controlled a swarm using integrated swarm technology developed by a Raytheon BBN-led team. The swarm, composed of 130 physical drone platforms and 30 simulated drone platforms, was operated in both indoor and outdoor settings.

The team used a combination of commercial off-the-shelf and custom-built hardware and software to deliver swarm autonomy. This technology enabled a single or a small group of operators to direct and manage the activities of a large swarm of autonomous air and ground vehicles with minimal training.

“Controlling a drone swarm changes the way an operator or group of operators think about the drones,” said Shane Clark, Raytheon BBN OFFSET principal investigator. “Takeaways from this exercise help inform us of the inflection points between utility and manageability.”

The swarm control technology does not use any powerful computing devices or sensors available in other more expensive platforms but relies on inexpensive hardware and custom-built software. Raytheon BBN needed to create a broad library of simple tactic building blocks used to create plans to accomplish mission objectives.

The company also designed and configured a scalable, modular, and decentralized approach to manage a variety of current and future platforms and missions. Whenever possible, the drones collaborate actively to decide how to accomplish a specific mission most efficiently.

Once the drones are deployed, their collaboration allows them to understand what parts of a building have been explored and where the gaps in the missions are. They then autonomously work to fill those gaps. To tackle the complexities of human swarm interfaces, the Raytheon team created a virtual reality interface in addition to traditional camera views. It takes feeds from all the swarm assets to create an interactive virtual view of the environment.

The team also developed a speech interface with the operationally deployed Tactical Assault Kit (TAK) integration capability that enables the operator to act quickly while maintaining situational awareness over many systems simultaneously.

The Raytheon BBN-led team is contracted by DARPA to demonstrate its swarm capabilities during Army Expeditionary Warrior Experiment 2022, hosted by the Army Maneuver Battle Lab.

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