Warplanes: Intelligent Swarms


August 9, 2007: Military pilots insist the skies over Iraq are scarier than a lot of what's going on down below. When there's a battle going on in the Iraq, the skies overhead become crowded, and dangerous, especially at night. Because most of the aircraft are UAVs, many of them too small to carry a transponder, air traffic controllers try to keep these unpiloted aircraft restricted to specific areas and/or, altitudes. While there have not been any fatal collisions, there have been some non-fatal ones, and a lot of scary moments.

A solution to this problem has been tested, and it involves installing smarter navigation software on the UAVs, software that enables UAVs in an area to communicate and cooperate with each other. Often, the main job of UAVs is to just fly around and look for something specific, or suspicious. Using search pattern techniques first developed and perfected during World War II, the UAVs software jointly develops an optimal search pattern for each aircraft. This changes when something is found, or when an operator changes the mission by, for example, ordering a more intense search of a particular area. This happens when the bad guys in a vehicle dismount, especially when they realize they are being watched. It often takes a swarm of UAVs to track all these fleeing terrorists.

With UAVs cooperating and communicating like this, their GPS location data can be sent to air traffic controllers, and manned aircraft in the area. Pilots, for example, could call up an image on one of their cockpit displays, that would show them in relation to any UAV "swarms" in the area.

The UAV users also want to reduce their manpower requirements with this software. Thus one team of pilots and sensor operators could safely run three or four UAVs. In other words, one operator team per swarm, instead of per UAV.




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