World’s Largest Drone Swarm Testing Facility

drones photo illus. by Pixabay
drones photo illus. by Pixabay

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Future soldiers will operate with interconnected drone swarm systems across the battlespace to get capabilities for situational awareness, defense and logistics. One of the challenges lies in swarm testing capabilities. A new technology will enable to expand swarm testing from indoor in small places to vast outdoor environments.

The U.S. Army has implemented a unique outdoor system to test swarming drones — with a capacity of more than 1,500 times the volume of a typical testing facility. Army researchers worked with PhaseSpace to develop a new motion-capture capability, the process of recording the movement of objects or people used in military, entertainment, sports, medical applications, and for validation of computer vision and robotics. Motion capture works for outdoor use — where sunlight interferes with motion-capture devices typically used for purposes such as video game development.

Dan Everson, a researcher at the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Army Research Laboratory said the technology “will allow us to replicate more realistic UAS operation conditions and conduct experiments that were previously not possible, such as using cameras to navigate terrains, testing RF [radio frequency] communication within a swarm and flying larger drones.” “The flexibility and scalability of this system will help the Army develop capabilities that will achieve overmatch against our adversaries.”

The system enables the lab to focus on advancements in multi-agent collaborative navigation technologies, heterogeneous swarming concepts, ground/aerial agent interactions, counter-UAS systems and human-agent teaming, Everson said. 

The system was designed to track motion, creating brightly illuminated LED marker strobes that attach to the UAS test devices and move throughout the entirety of the testing area.

To track the LED markers, 96 cameras housed within 16 tracking pods are positioned around the perimeter of the testing area. 

Evaluation of the Army-developed system demonstrated accurate marker tracking within a space of 460 x 110 x 70 meters — more than 1,500 times as large as a typical 15 x 15 x 10-meter system. The system has a measurement rate of 100Hz, meaning it measures the position of the markers 100 times every second.

Located at APG US Army facilities in Maryland, the testing system is transportable, and can be scaled up or down and even change shape. Everson said he hopes collaborators in academia, industry or within the government can use this capability to test their own research and development in robotics, according to