Or Low Cost Autonomous UAV Swarming Technology, brought to you by the fine folks at the Office of Naval Research.
ONR has taken an existing low cost expendable UAV system called the Coyote and is looking to repurpose it. Coyote is pretty interesting in and of itself. It was designed to be launched from the existing sonobouy tubes of patrol planes and ASW helicopters, and provide full motion video back to the launching plane. You might, for instance, want to take a close look at a particular building or terrain feature, but not put your big expensive airplane at risk by being too close to small arms fire. Simply pop out a Coyote, and let it take all the risks. And the Coyote is cheap enough that you don’t have to worry about recovering it. It flies for 90 minutes or so, and then simply crashes. And it is low tech enough that the enemy can’t really exploit any that it recovers.
Of course, once a drone has been designed for one method of employment, particularly one designed for containerized launch, finding other ways to use it is pretty easy. ONR is looking at methods to allow multiple UAVs organize themselves, and operate autonomously. That is, the operator just has to give general instructions, not actually hand fly each drone remotely.
The clip below shows a test of autonomous operations, and a notional use of a swarm for ISR and strike. It seems to me that the issue with such a system is less the autonomous control of the swarm, but the bandwidth required to transmit the information back to the launch platform, and finding a meaningful way to exploit that full motion video. Indeed, that’s been one of the real challenges of using UAVs is that there is so much video streaming that it’s impossible for it all to be seen. Now instead of one or two streams coming in from a Predator or Reaper, consider 10 or 20 streams coming in from a swarm. How do you know what to look at?
Mostly I just like hearing the thoooomp as the Coyotes are ejected from their launcher.