We haven't heard the "Aquabotix" name in awhile, but that doesn't mean the company's been resting on its laurels. The aquatic drone company has been working on SwarmDivers, which as the name suggests, is a cluster of drones that can "function simultaneously as a single coordinated entity, be easily controlled via one operator on the surface, and perform dives on command" according to a press release. The main focus is military/defense applications for now. The press release only mentions other applications briefly, and right at the end, saying that the drones are capable of research, harbor management and oceanography too. As far as the intended applications go, the first one mentioned is reconnaissance.
The US army wants a missile that could shoot a swarm of weaponised drones over a target area. The idea would be to equip existing missiles with the ability to dispense multiple "smart quadcopters" after launch. On release, the quadcopters would unfold, decelerate and fly off under their own power to attack different locations. A single missile could therefore knock out multiple targets. The drone-firing weapon is outlined in a solicitation for design proposals from the Department of Defense.
Drones that can't see the wood for the trees won't last long in the forest. A method for getting a swarm of them to maintain formation as they pick their way through trees and shrubs means that teams of drones could soon map and take pictures of areas that were previously off limits. With their ability to fly under the canopy, drones can create 3D maps of forest interiors that aren't possible from high in the sky. Satellites can only make relatively coarse maps, and clouds can block their cameras. Planes provide better resolution, but are expensive to operate.
This week, DARPA shared footage of an experimental new program that uses large drones swarms to locate targets and gather situational intelligence in urban raid missions. Part of DARPA's Offensive Swarm-Enabled Tactics (OFFSET) program, the test featured a coordinated group of 250 autonomous air and ground vehicles. Those vehicles were sent into to a simulated urban environment, providing live information about sight lines, enemy positioning, environmental hazards, and general layout as part of a simulated military raid. The test was conducted at DARPA's Camp Shelby Joint Forces Training Center, a facility in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. The missions tasked the drone swarm with finding several AprilTags, a kind of QR code, that had been placed inside buildings in the training compound, which was designed to approximate a city block.
When you're zipping through the air at 60 kilometres per hour, it can be hard to work out where you're going. But now drones can create detailed 3D maps as they fly – an advance that could let them navigate the world free from human input. Called Hydra Fusion, the system could one day allow drones to use a form of navigation known as simultaneous localisation and mapping to find their way in unfamiliar spaces – just as some robots do on the ground. It will also make them better at aerial surveillance. Hydra Fusion works by stitching together multiple images – in this case, consecutive frames of footage from a drone's video camera – to form a detailed 3D map while it is in the air.