US defense sector launches open test bed for swarming drones

Northrop Grumman is launching its first open architecture testbed to other companies who want to develop their own swarm-based drones on the platform.

The defense and aerospace firm has been selected by the US government’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) as the systems integrator for its OFFensive Swarm-Enabled Tactics (OFFSET) program.

The OFFSET program aims to develop small-unit infantry forces with swarms of 250 or more small autonomous drones or small unmanned ground systems (UGSs) for missions in complex urban environments.

Vern Boyle, vice president, advanced technologies, Northrop Grumman Mission Systems, said, “Cognitive autonomy has the potential to transform all defense and security systems. OFFSET will explore a variety of applications in relevant mission scenarios.

“We are applying cutting-edge technologies in robotics, robot autonomy, machine learning and swarm control to ultimately enhance our contributions to the warfighter.”

Northrop Grumman is working with Intelligent Automation Inc. (IAI) and the Interactive Computing Experiences Research Cluster at the University of Central Florida on the OFFSET program.

Engineers at Northrop Grumman will develop and deploy a swarm-system based on an open software architecture that will enable other companies to develop and test swarm technologies in both a game-based virtual environment and physical testbed.

The team has been tasked to produce tactics and technologies to test on the architecture and is responsible for engaging a wider development and user audience through rapid technology-development exercises known as ‘swarm sprints’.

Every six months, DARPA plans to solicit proposals from potential ‘sprinters’ in one of five thrust areas: swarm tactics, swarm autonomy, human-swarm teaming, virtual environment and physical testbed.