CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (Jan. 10, 2022) – Raytheon Intelligence & Space, a Raytheon Technologies business, recently supported the fifth OFFensive Swarm-Enabled Tactics, or OFFSET, DARPA program field exercise. Using integrated swarm technology developed by a Raytheon BBN-led team, a single operator successfully controlled a swarm—composed of 130 physical drone platforms and 30 simulated drone platforms—both indoors and outdoors in an urban setting.
During the exercise, the team used a combination of commercial off-the-shelf and custom-built hardware and software to deliver swarm autonomy. This enabled a single or small group of operators to direct and manage the activities of a large swarm of autonomous air and ground vehicles with minimal training.
“Controlling a drone swarm changes the way an operator or group of operators think about the drones,” said Shane Clark, Raytheon BBN OFFSET principal investigator. “Takeaways from this exercise help inform us of the inflection points between utility and manageability.”
A key element of the program is the use of inexpensive hardware. Without powerful computing and sensing capabilities available in larger more expensive platforms, Raytheon BBN needed to create a broad library of simple tactic building blocks used to create plans to accomplish mission objectives. Raytheon BBN also designed and configured a scalable, modular and decentralized approach to manage a variety of current and future platforms and missions. Whenever possible the drones collaborate actively to decide how to accomplish a specific mission most efficiently.
“Our software is smart enough to assign drones with the right capabilities to the appropriate set of tasks,” Clark said. “For example, if the task is to surveil a building, multiple drones will be dispatched with each surveilling portions of the building. The software considers each platform’s sensor capabilities, and tasks drones with downward facing cameras to surveil the roof.”
Once the drones are deployed, their collaboration allows them to understand what parts of a building have been explored and where the gaps are. They then autonomously select how to fill in those gaps.
To tackle the complexities of human swarm interfaces, the Raytheon BBN team created a virtual reality interface, in addition to traditional camera views. It takes feeds from all the swarm assets to create an interactive virtual view of the environment.
“You can look behind the building to access a view of drone locations for example and use the virtual reality environment to test and see if your mission is viable. We also developed a speech interface with the operationally deployed Tactical Assault Kit, or TAK, integration capability that enables the operator to act quickly while maintaining situational awareness over many systems simultaneously,” Clark said.
The Raytheon BBN-led team includes Smart Information Flow Technologies, or SIFT, and Oregon State University. The team is contracted by DARPA to demonstrate its swarm capabilities during Army Expeditionary Warrior Experiment 2022, hosted by the Army Maneuver Battle Lab.
For questions or to schedule an interview, please contact:
Eric T. Mazzacone
About Raytheon BBN
Founded in 1948, Raytheon BBN provides advanced technology research and development with a focus on national security priorities. From the ARPANET, to the first email, to the first stereo digital mammography system, through the first metro network protected by quantum cryptography, Raytheon BBN has consistently transitioned advanced research to produce innovative solutions for its customers. Today, Raytheon BBN’s innovations allow for leading-edge maritime systems, networking solutions, speech understanding in any language or format, and lifesaving shooter detection systems. Raytheon BBN scientists and engineers continue to take risks and challenge conventions to create new and fundamentally better solutions in analytics & machine intelligence, networks and sensors, intelligent software and systems, and physical sciences.