US Navy goes tubular with autonomous swarming UAV demonstrations

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ONR has been conducting demonstrations of the LOCUST project for swarming UAVs

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The Office of Naval Research (ONR) has revealed that it has been conducting demonstrations of swarming unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) at various locations over the past month. The demonstrations were part of the Low-Cost UAV Swarming Technology (LOCUST) program, which is developing quick launching UAV swarm technology to overwhelm adversaries.

We've seen a number of efforts that bring UAVs together in a group to act collaboratively, be it to construct a tower, put on a light show, or play the James Bond theme. Unsurprisingly, the military has also recognized the potential of drone swarms and ONR's LOCUST drones are designed to share information between each other once in the air to allow them to collaborate autonomously on defensive or offensive missions.

As well as taking people out of harm's way, the technology is anticipated to free personnel up to perform more complex tasks and allow fewer people to carry out more missions. They are also expected to significantly lower costs, with ONR pointing out that even hundreds of small autonomous UAVs cost much less than a single tactical aircraft.

The LOCUST system consists of a tube-based launcher that is able to get multiple drones airborne in quick succession. ONR says the small size of the launcher and the drones themselves means the system can be used to launch UAVs from ships, tactical vehicles, aircraft, or even larger unmanned platforms.

The recent demonstrations included the launch of Coyote UAVs that have the capability to carry different payloads depending on the mission at hand, and another in which nine UAVs successfully synchronized and performed formation flight completely autonomously. Despite the drones' autonomy, ONR says there will always be a human monitoring any mission who can take over control if need be.

"This level of autonomous swarming flight has never been done before," says ONR program manager Lee Mastroianni. "UAVs that are expendable and reconfigurable will free manned aircraft and traditional weapon systems to do more, and essentially multiply combat power at decreased risk to the warfighter."

Mastroianni says the recent demonstrations will help pave the way for a demonstration involving the rapid launch of 30 autonomous, swarming UAVs from a ship in 2016.

A number of demonstrations can be seen in the video below.

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