FORT BENNING, Ga., (Dec. 16 2015) -- Georgia Tech Research Institute tested unmanned aerial vehicles to operate as a swarm at Lee Field.

GTRI and the Maneuver Center of Excellence have worked together in the past for various academic projects and services, along with agencies such as Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center, said Harry Lubin, chief of the experimentation branch at the Maneuver Battle Lab.

The purpose of this UAV research, according to GTRI, is to determine capabilities with large numbers of small UAVs to perform collective operations as a swarm. Research is necessary to acquire swarm behavior algorithms and communication methods that support large numbers of aircraft (1-100), as well as create an operator interface for someone to monitor and direct the swarm. The test consisted of stages in which the initial flight was just one aircraft, followed by three to five aircraft, then 10, and lastly 30 total aircraft flying together.

The MCoE's partnership with this type of research will drive maneuver force innovation and creation, making maneuver leaders and Soldiers smarter, faster, more lethal and very precise in implementing future missions, Lubin explained.

Lubin said UAVs are becoming smarter and will be able to work together to specify a target and get information. A swarm can be applied to make maneuver forces more lethal. The technology will be fast, which is vital as speed is relative to mission success and domination on the battlefield.

These UAVs will eventually benefit Soldiers. The UAVs would use the swarm capability to complete various missions without putting any lives at risk, or prepare the battlefield before the mission takes place, which ultimately improves situational awareness, said Lubin.

"So, we can put unmanned vehicles in areas where it would not be safe to put a manned vehicle, and then we can also have larger numbers of this unmanned vehicles," said Don Davis, principal research engineer, division chief of robotics and autonomous systems at GTRI.

The importance of the swarm is having numerous opportunities to obtain a target, according to Davis. If there are 30 UAVs flying and only one or two make it to the target, it will be able to obtain the information without putting any lives in danger.

The partnership between GTRI and Fort Benning is imperative to the UAV swarm research.
"Our partnership with Fort Benning has been very critical because here we have the infrastructure, the support, the Fort Benning team," Davis said.

The environment of the research is crucial since range and airspace are major factors in the experiment.

"Having this sort of facility, this sort of partnership, has allowed us to advance the state of art of this autonomy in a way that we couldn't do anywhere else, so it's been absolutely valuable," he added.

What does the future hold for UAV swarm research? The experimenters would like to complete research of this type of maneuver on ground, sea and air. This could eventually lead to unmanned missions, or assist in missions with Soldiers on the ground, in the water or in the air. The partnership will continue to work with DARPA and other services to improve the development.

"We are trying to make these robots smart so they can work together without having to have consistent human intervention - program them for a mission and then they go out and act on their own," Lubin said.

Lubin, who is in charge of prototype experimentation for the MBL, said the most important factor learned from this research is expanding capabilities of future UAVs.