Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), has been working on a project that partners soldiers on the ground with autonomous robots and drones called Squad X. It’s designed to provide soldiers in the field with more information about their surroundings.
The Squad X program saw its first week-long series of tests at Twentynine Palms, California, to track progress on two complementary systems that allow infantry squads to collaborate with AI and autonomous systems to make better decisions in complex, time-critical combat situations.
“We are in a race with potential adversaries to operationalize autonomy, and we have the opportunity to demonstrate autonomy in a way that we don’t believe any nation in the world has demonstrated to date,” said Lt. Col. Phil Root (USA), the Squad X program manager in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office. “Developing hardware and tactics that allow us to operate seamlessly within a close combat ground environment is extremely challenging, but provides incredible value.”
A variety of tools are used in the project to gather and transmit information to Marines and soldiers: autonomous robots that can drive around their locations; aerial drones that can survey their immediate surroundings; and off-the-shelf Android tablets to take in all of that information and present it to soldiers on the ground. An artificial intelligence system processed the information from the sensors, and presented the relevant data to the participants.
The aim is to speed the development of new, lightweight, integrated systems that provide infantry squads awareness, adaptability and flexibility in complex environments.
Root is also the program manager for Squad X Core Technologies, Military Times reported.
He laid out four key technical areas that the program is exploring:
- Precision Engagement: Precisely engage threats while maintaining compatibility with infantry weapon systems and without imposing weight or operational burdens that would negatively affect mission effectiveness. Capabilities of interest include distributed, non-line-of-sight targeting and guided munitions.
- Non-Kinetic Engagement: Disrupt enemy command and control, communications and use of drones. Capabilities of interest include disaggregated electronic surveillance and coordinated effects from distributed platforms.
- Squad Sensing: Detect potential threats at a squad-relevant operational pace. Capabilities of interest include multi-source data fusion and autonomous threat detection.
- Squad Autonomy: Increase squad members’ real-time knowledge of their own and teammates’ locations in GPS-denied environments using embedded unmanned air and ground systems. Capabilities of interest include robust collaboration between humans and unmanned systems.
Like other ongoing tests that the Army is conducting with autonomous armored vehicles, DARPA has noted that the tests aren’t just to figure out how to use the systems, but how the tactics that the soldiers use will change. Root said that there was a “steady evolution of tactics” that came with their robotic teammate. DARPA wasn’t just developing the tools for the soldiers, Root says, “but rather develop the hardware and the tactics that allow this to operate seamlessly within the close-combat ground environment.”
Video credit: DARPAtv