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Single Operator Controls 130+ Drones at DARPA Exercise

A single operator controlled over a hundred physical and simulated drones simultaneously using Raytheon integrated swarm technology at the fifth OFFensive Swarm-Enabled Tactics (OFFSET) program.

The heart of the technology is software that assigns “drones with the right capabilities to the appropriate set of tasks,” Raytheon BBN OFFSET principal investigator Shane Clark explained. The drones then collaborate “most efficiently” to execute the task. 

“For example, if the task is to surveil a building, multiple drones will be dispatched with each surveilling portion of the building. The software considers each platform’s sensor capabilities, and tasks drones with downward-facing cameras to surveil the roof,” Clark said.

Raytheon BBN-led team recently supported DARPA’s fifth OFFSET program field exercise. Image: Raytheon Intelligence & Space

Virtual Reality Interface

In addition to traditional camera views, the system employs a speech-based virtual reality interface enabling the operator to act quickly “while maintaining situational awareness over many systems simultaneously.”

The swarm comprises a combination of off-the-shelf commercial models and custom-built hardware and software. Each drone is designed and configured in a “scalable, modular and decentralized approach to manage a variety of current and future platforms and missions.”

OFFSET Program

The demonstration was part of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency project to build a large swarm of aerial and ground-based unmanned platforms controlled by a small group of people. 

“Large-scale teams could mean hundreds of robots in concert, but I don’t want 100-250 Soldiers or Marines running around with joysticks in their hands, heads down,”  said OFFSET program manager Timothy Chung.

“We would rather be able to orchestrate how these swarms of robots go out with a single operator working alongside a swarm commander.”

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