Small unmanned aircraft are already more than bit-part players in military operations, and when they're able to work together they could bring even more to the table. One of the many research groups investigating such possibilities is the team behind DARPA's OFFensive Swarm-Enabled Tactics (OFFSET) program, whose latest demonstration illustrates how fleets of unmanned aircraft can be used to secure important buildings in urban environments.

Various research groups are working on technologies that allow drones to collaborate on certain tasks, whether that be autonomously constructing a rope bridge, putting on dazzling light shows at Disney World or covering walls in graffiti.

When it comes to military operations, researchers hopes to expand on the surveillance abilities of singular drones by having them share intel with one another in the air and with human operators on the ground. The US Navy's LOCUST program is pursuing similar objectives.

The OFFSET program's latest demonstration is actually the second of six planned exercises, and saw a swarm of drones attempt to secure a building within an urban environment. The team likens this to the way firefighters set up a perimeter around a burning building.

The exercise took place at a DARPA training facility in Georgia arranged to resemble an urban area of around two city blocks. Tasks for the flying robots including isolating a mock city hall building and then securing the area, hovering in proximity and keeping watch over the streets, with flights lasting up to 30 minutes apiece.

Eventually, DARPA hopes to develop collaborative autonomous systems that can relay important information to ground units operating in confined urban areas where they mightn't have any idea what's around the next corner. The agency says these swarms could include over 250 drones, and plans to conduct demonstrations every six months in pursuit of its aims.

The video below shows its swarming drones in action.

Source: DARPA