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DARPA details OFFSET swarming UAVs

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has released details on a crucial leg of its third offset initiative, a swarming unmanned vehicle programme known as OFFensive Swarm-Enabled Tactics (OFFSET).

DARPA has pinned its hopes on the future of autonomous and adaptive vehicles on the gaming industry, which it expects can leverage software from game development platforms such as Unity 3D and Unreal to create realistic scenarios.

DARPA has not only considered the way the gaming world is constructed, but how its community interacts. The 27 January draft broad agency announcement calls for techniques such as leaderboards that would encourage users to frequently submit high quality swarm tactics that would be incorporated into software.

OFFSET’s concept percolated to the surface last fall, when the US Air Force teased their vision for an “Ender’s Game” scenario where an operator could control swarms of UAVs with the wave of hand. Col Brandon Baker told an audience at the Association for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles Systems International unmanned defense systems conference the USAF had tasked the gaming industry to create a swarming system that could operator independent of a ground station.

The draft BAA fits Baker’s narrative, laying out a system that would leverage gaming technologies such as augmented and virtual reality, as well as the use of hand gestures, touch or haptic interfaces to command swarms. DARPA will award a total of $14 million for up to two contractors.

As part of its third offset strategy, the DOD envisions an aerial battlefield where the sheer size of a drone swarm overwhelms the enemy. But OFFSET looks beyond size, digging into complex swarm tactics and human-machine teaming. In particular, DARPA wants to focus on swarms that could operate in dense, urban environments in the air and on the ground.

At minimum, OFFSET would employ 100 unmanned air and ground vehicles for a two-hour mission across a range as large as four city blocks, according to the BAA. The USAF is targeting an objective swarm of 250 unmanned vehicles across eight blocks for a six-hour mission.

Judging by the draft BAA, DARPA isn’t looking to reinvent the wheel when it to technology for OFFSET. Instead of developing new sensor and communications hardware technology, DARPA wants to leverage existing technology and open source libraries, the announcement states.

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