Autonomous Swarms Are Reaching Urban Environment

Soldiers of the 530th Engineer Company "Bloodhounds", 92nd Engineer Battalion, attached to the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, clear a room on the right after having breached the door, un-aware of the soldier acting as an enemy waiting to ambush them in the next room they have to clear on the left during a training exercises here Dec., 5. The objective at this particular training site was to go through an urban building employing three different techniques to breech doors, clear the building, and to find a targeted "insurgent". This training was just a small part of a three-day, 9-event training exercise that the 530th has conducted to better assess and develop the necessary skills within the soldiers of the only route clearance company in all of Fort Stewart. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Richard Wrigley, 2nd BCT, 3rd Inf. Division Public Affairs)

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The development of autonomous swarm technology is moving one step forward, with capabilities rapidly nearing availability for future operations.

Researchers, roboticists, and technologists deployed swarms of autonomous air and ground vehicles to test mission capabilities in the final field experiment (FX-6) of DARPA’s recent OFFensive Swarm-Enabled Tactics (OFFSET) program. 

The program envisions future small-unit infantry forces using swarms comprising upwards of 250 unmanned aircraft systems (UASs) and/or unmanned ground systems (UGSs) to accomplish diverse missions in complex urban environments.

OFFSET specifically focused on advancements in collaborative swarm autonomy and human-swarm teaming capabilities. The goal is to develop a set of “swarm tactics” that can be used to implement a swarm commander’s intent using algorithms that autonomous systems can understand.

Two swarm systems integrators – Northrop Grumman Mission Systems and Raytheon BBN Technologies – were tasked with designing, developing, and deploying an open architecture for swarm operations in both physical and virtual environments. 

The swarm systems consist of an extensible game-based architecture that enables the design and integration of swarm tactics, immersive interfaces for collaboration among teams of humans and swarm systems, and a physical testbed with hundreds of aerial and ground robots to validate new capabilities.

The testbeds consist of commercial off-the-shelf small unmanned systems, including backpack-sized rovers as well as multi-rotor and fixed-wing aerial vehicles. These systems, or swarm agents, were tasked by swarm commanders to execute swarm tactics.

Systems integrators were also tasked with creating a tactics exchange to foster community interaction, according to