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The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), is soliciting creative proposals for the fourth swarm sprint in its OFFensive Swarm-Enabled Tactics (OFFSET) programme, the agency announced on 1 April.

OFFSET envisions swarms of 250 collaborative autonomous systems providing critical capabilities to ground units in urban areas in which challenges such as tall buildings, tight spaces, and limited sight lines constrain essential communications, sensing, manoeuvrability, and autonomous operations.

The swarm sprints aim to encourage rapid innovation and continuous incorporation of breakthrough technologies. Each of the five core sprints emphasises one of the key OFFSET thrust areas – swarm tactics, swarm autonomy, human-swarm teaming, virtual environment, and physical testbed – to ultimately enable cross-cutting breakthroughs in swarm systems capabilities.

The fourth swarm sprint consists of two topic areas: developing synthetic technologies in the OFFSET virtual environments and identifying applications of artificial intelligence (AI) to discover and learn novel swarm tactics.

For the first topic area, proposers will seek to develop and implement synthetic capabilities in simulation, representing potential future technologies, such as distributed ‘see-through-wall’ sensors, passive swarm communications, or enhanced sensor/computing arrays, to enable and demonstrate novel swarm tactics. Proposed technologies could be near-term advances that are being prototyped in laboratories, or long-term ideas that are primarily conceptual but physically grounded.

The second topic area represents an ad hoc sprint for leveraging AI to accelerate swarm tactics design, for which sprinters will discover, learn, and harden novel swarm tactics by applying AI frameworks via enhancements of the OFFSET virtual environments.

"With OFFSET, we are expanding the tactics available to warfighters, leveraging advances in autonomous systems to address complex challenges in urban environments," explained Programme Manager from DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office, Timothy Chung. “Exploring and developing swarm technologies in virtual environments today can yield insights and impact for real-world breakthrough capabilities tomorrow.”

DARPA also has awarded separate contracts for the third swarm sprint to Carnegie Mellon University and Soar Technology Inc., each of which will focus on development of advanced swarm tactics. The third swarm sprint aims to augment the growing collection of swarm tactics in the OFFSET ecosystem, employing heterogeneous swarms of air and ground robots, and also to explore innovative technologies to enhance human-swarm teaming or how humans interact with autonomous swarms.

DARPA’s OFFSET programme seeks to examine and exploit opportuinities for swarms of autonomous systems to provide on-demand, flexible capability to troops on the ground, particularly in urban environments. (Image via DARPA)

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