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The Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Unit is looking for commercial autonomous drone solutions that can track people, vehicles, and weapons, as well as conduct 3D mapping, all while communicating with other AI systems in dark and congested areas.

The DoD wants the drones’ AI to link with at least three other similar systems and their hardware should be able to swarm in “complex, contested, and congested environments.” 

The Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) solicitation titled “Artificial Intelligence For Small Unit Maneuver” requires that the drones would be able to run for at least 25 minutes, conduct surveillance in challenging environments, transmit 3D mapping in real-time, and be exfiltrated at the end of their missions.

A similar program from the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) looks to develop autonomous drones with 3D vision that would be able to see without being seen “at night, underground, in the Arctic, and in fog.” Like DARPA’s Invisible Headlights program, the DIU is looking to create drones with passive 3D sensors that can detect objects of interest, such as “weapons, people, and vehicles” in low-light or blackout conditions.

The government has a strong preference for platforms, models, and software that follow the idea of a modular, open-systems architecture, the DIU solicitation reads.

According to, as civil unrest becomes more prevalent, autonomous drones that can swarm and communicate across networks while conducting surveillance in congested areas could be seen by governments as useful tools to monitor and predict social uprisings.

The Pentagon envisions a future of warfare where soldiers engaged in urban combat will interact with upwards of 250 autonomous robots, and it has made progress through DARPA’s OFFensive Swarm-Enabled Tactics (OFFSET) program.