Computational creativity and the future of AI

Boeing demonstrates swarm technology


August 22, 2011

Boeing has demonstrated swarm technology using two ScanEagles (pictured) and a Procerus Un...

Boeing has demonstrated swarm technology using two ScanEagles (pictured) and a Procerus Unicorn

Individually, insects have proven a deep well of inspiration for robotics engineers looking to mimic designs refined over millions of years of evolution. Now Boeing has demonstrated swarm technology for reconnaissance missions using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that is similar to the way insects communicate and work together as an intelligent group. Potential uses for the technology include search-and-rescue missions and identifying enemy threats ahead of ground patrols.

In flight tests over the rugged terrain of eastern Oregon last month, different types of UAVs worked together to search the test area by autonomously generating waypoints and mapping the terrain, while simultaneously sending information to teams on the ground. The mission used two Insitu-manufactured ScanEagles and one Procerus Unicorn from The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHU/APL), which communicated using a Mobile Ad Hoc Network and swarm technology developed by JHU/APL.

"This is a milestone in UAV flight," said Gabriel Santander, Boeing Advanced Autonomous Networks program 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."

JHU/APL principal investigator Dave Scheidt says that the decentralized swarm technology demonstrated in the flight tests has the potential to improve response times while reducing manning requirements when compared to current systems. A broader demonstration of the swarm technology is planned for next month.

This isn't the first time we've seen researchers turn to insects to develop flight strategies for swarms of aerial vehicles. The Swarming Micro Air Vehicle Network (SMAVNET) Project used the pheromone paths laid down by army ants help plot the most economical course for MAVs that would be deployed in disaster areas to quickly create communication networks for rescuers.

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag.   All articles by Darren Quick

The potential is limitless!

Diane Brown Dutch
22nd August, 2011 @ 12:42 pm PDT

Perhaps Boeing should have to demonstrate that this technology wasn't compromised by their network security breaches.

28th August, 2011 @ 02:19 pm PDT

This could be utilized for search and rescue as well as wartime applications. multiple UAVs working together could give a much better and complete search than a single one if they can work together searching the same area from different angles giving a kind of 3d view of the ground and covering more area more thoroughly.

Eddie Hagler
18th March, 2013 @ 11:51 am PDT
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