Benning Teams with University to Study Free-Flying UAS

The service joined with Georgia Tech to study how unmanned systems can fly together in groups without human involvement, a concept known as "swarming."

Infantry officials at Fort Benning, Ga., want squads and platoons to one day get their battlefield intelligence from formations of unmanned aerial systems that fly with complete autonomy.

The Maneuver Center of Excellence at Benning and the Georgia Institute of Technology recently conducted an experiment aimed at testing hardware and algorithms designed to help multiple UAS fly without human involvement.

Georgia Tech scientists have been studying “how these vehicles can autonomously cooperate with one another in multiple groups,” said Charles Pippin, senior research scientist at Georgia Tech.

Benning officials are interested in the research to help shape the procedures guiding how infantry units will operate with UAS in the future.

“We have to pull soldiers from the squad and deplete our fighting force to control these systems,” said Harry Lubin, chief of the experimentation branch at Benning’s Maneuver Battle Lab.

“If we can get to a point where we can basically upload mission sets into unmanned aircraft and have them perform these reconnaissance missions autonomously through cooperating with each other, what we are then doing is taking all the soldiers you might have needed to control X number of UAS and putting them back into the squad.”

The effort is still in the early research phase, but Georgia Tech officials spent the first week of June testing the concept using quarter-scale Piper Cubs equipped a special payload that transmits algorithms to an off-the-shelf auto-pilot devices.

During the experiment, officials flew UASs in leader and follower roles, using the university’s four UAS. Georgia Tech hopes to use the findings to determine what types of UASs are suited for specific tasks, Pippin said.

Georgia Tech’s research, which is internally funded,  is designed to ensure that the algorithms and hardware can be loaded onto other UAS platforms, Pippin said.

One of the program’s future goals is to make the technology more robust for a combat environment, Pippin said.