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'Swarm technology' could allow UAVs to work together

Autonomous aircraft could one day work together like swarming insects to complete missions, thanks to technology tested by Boeing last month.

The US-based aerospace company used swarm technology, developed by the John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHU/APL), to allow different types of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to communicate and operate as a group.

The technology allowed two ScanEagle aircraft manufactured by Boeing subsidiary Insitu and one Procerus Unicorn from JHU/APL to complete a mission in eastern Oregon on 7–10 July, the company revealed last week.

The UAVs worked together to search a test area, mapping the terrain and creating their own flight path, while simultaneously sending information to teams on the ground. A broader demonstration is planned for the end of September.

‘This is a milestone in UAV flight,’ said Gabriel Santander, Boeing Advanced Autonomous Networks programme director and team leader.

‘The test team proved that these unmanned aircraft can collect and use data while communicating with each other to support a unified mission.

‘This swarm technology may one day be used for search-and-rescue missions or identifying enemy threats ahead of ground patrols.’

JHU/APL principal investigator Dave Scheidt said: ‘The decentralised autonomous vehicles we demonstrated show the potential for improved response time and reduced manning requirements when compared with current systems.’

The ScanEagle system also recently took part in the successful test of a Boeing-developed narrowband communications relay that was used to link handheld radios in the mountains of California.

Readers' comments (3)

  • The demonstration hardly demonstrates "swarm technology". For a long time I have proposed true swarm technology as used against enemy positions. For those who are unfamiliar, it relies upon autonomous UAV's who communicate with each other and the ground, but the UAV's fly random patterns in a tight group. They communicate with each other primarily for avoidance. Individual UAV's apply their weapons to the target and move away. Simultaneously, one or more UAV's engage the target. Thus, the target may be engaged in multiple directions simultaneously. For example, four UAV's may engage a target from different directions, followed by more UAV's arriving from other random directions. This method allows engagement of complicated targets in a narrow area.

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  • All very interesting, but I retired twenty years ago and most of the technical words used today I just understand.
    Living in a backard country like Trinidad my consolstion is that seeing several projects I was involved in in a small way are now prospering. I am now working on a project to return from the dead. That is if I live long enough!!

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  • Sir,
    A strategy that seems possible after having been dreamt up more than 40 years back.
    Interesting I have been desperately scanning net for Flash Gordon comics of 1960s era, that had this concept and where it would take us.
    My sincere request to everyone to read those comics if still available somewhere. Believe me, the concept being proposed by many is nothing compared to FlashGordon comics.

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