Air Force Plans Drone Swarm Challenge

A competition to help influence new drone technologies is being put together by Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and the United Kingdom’s Defense Science and Research Laboratory. The competition will find the best drone design to help with fighting wildfires, and will use new drone technologies such as drone swarms. The competition is being called the “Swarm and Search AI Challenge: Fire Hack” and is designed to promote drone swarm technologies used in a real world scenario. Drones, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, are becoming more and more popular for many different applications. Their small size and simple design bodes well for situations unsuitable for humans, and new technologies are turning drones into massively capable little machines.

The idea of drone swarms is a relatively new concept. A drone swarm would consist of a large number of independently flying drones that are computer controlled. The drones would all be “aware” of each other to avoid in-air collisions, be fully autonomous, and would be able to fly together in close proximity, with the same goal of each delivering a small payload, perform widespread searches of an area, of other related functionality. It’s easy to envision how drones could be effectively used to fight wildfires: the drones could deliver a fire suppression payload quickly and effectively, and a drone swarm could cover a large area of wildfire.

Aside from the above mentioned usage, the Swarm and Search AI Challenge: Fire Hack competition aims to show how drone swarms could be used to effectively map out a wildfire area from a safe location. Benefits of using multiple drones for mapping include the ability to cover a large area quickly, and the ability to create almost real-time updated maps of wildfire spread in an area that would otherwise be too dangerous for firefighters to enter. Capabilities discovered during the challenge may be further developed for military applications. The competition will culminate in March, 2019.

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