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USAF looks at autonomous drone swarms for search and rescue

US Air Force researchers are looking at using swarms of autonomous unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) for search and rescue missions.

The US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and the UK's Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL), in collaboration with the Wright Brothers Institute and University of Dayton Research Institute, said on 22 January that they plan to run a competition to explore the concept.

The competition, named Swarm and Search AI Challenge: 2019 Fire Hack will revolve around mapping wildfires, and is designed to prompt teams to explore new, efficient and resilient ways to plan UAV search and rescue missions.

The organisers hope that participants will create new artificial intelligence or machine learning algorithms for controlling swarms of drones.

"Fire maps are a critical component to combating the risks of wildfire season. Improved mission planning and new algorithm-based technology has the potential to minimise damage and save lives," says the Wright Brothers Institute. "These technologies may also have military defence applications."

Teams will work remotely, via a closed, online collaboration platform, to explore different fire map scenarios using USAF-licensed software, says the AFRL.

The lab plans to run simultaneous competitions in the US and the UK, and will conclude with a final round, taking place over 29-31 March. The top three teams from both countries will be awarded cash prizes and will "learn about upcoming funding opportunities", says the AFRL.

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