At twilight on New Year's Eve, 2020, Placido Montoya, 35, a plumber from Fort Morgan, Colorado, was driving to work. Ahead of him he noticed blinking lights in the sky. He'd heard rumours of mysterious drones, whispers in his local community, but now he was seeing them with his own eyes. In the early morning gloom, it was hard to make out how big the lights were and how many were hovering above him. But one thing was clear to Montoya: he needed to give chase.
The Pentagon's Joint Artificial Intelligence Center has awarded a $93.3 million contract to General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc (GA-ASI), makers of the MQ-9 Reaper, to equip the drone with new AI technology. The aim is for the Reaper to be able to carry out autonomous flight, decide where to direct its battery of sensors, and to recognize objects on the ground. The contract, announced at the end of last month, builds on a successful test earlier this year. In some ways this is not a major development, more of an incremental step using existing technology. What makes it significant is the drone that is being equipped, and what it will be able to do afterwards.
The next year will be pivotal for the Air Force's effort to acquire a new class of autonomous drones, as industry teams compete for a chance to build a fleet of robotic wingmen that will soon undergo operational experimentation. The "Skyborg" program is one of the service's top science-and-technology priorities under the "Vanguard" initiative to deliver game-changing capabilities to its warfighters. The aim is to acquire relatively inexpensive, attritable unmanned aircraft that can leverage artificial intelligence and accompany manned fighter jets into battle. "I expect that we will do sorties where a set number are expected to fly with the manned systems, and we'll have crazy new [concepts of operation] for how they'll be used," Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Will Roper said during an online event hosted by the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies. The platforms might even be called upon to conduct kamikaze missions.
Nasa has flown a large, remotely piloted predator drone equipped with detect-and-avoid technologies through the national airspace system for the first time without a safety chase plane following it. The space agency says the'milestone' flight over California moves the US closer to normalising unmanned aircraft operations in airspace used by commercial and private pilots. The test used a non-military version of the Air Force's MQ-9 Predator B called Ikhana that is 36 feet (11 meters) long and has a 66-foot (20-meter) wingspan. It paves the way for large remotely-piloted aircraft to be used in all kinds of services, from fighting forest fires to providing emergency search and rescue operations, according to Nasa. The flight took off from Edwards Air Force Base in California and entered controlled air space almost immediately.
Google is ending its controversial'Project Maven' deal with the Pentagon. Google Cloud boss Diane Greene informed employees of the decision during an internal meeting on Friday morning, Gizmodo reported, citing sources close to the situation. The contract, in which the Pentagon used Google's artificial intelligence technologies to analyze drone footage, was set to expire in 2019. Greene told employees that it won't be renewing the contract once it expires. Google is calling off its controversial'Project Maven' program with the Pentagon.
Google's Project Maven program for AI-based military drone image recognition program could net the company up to $250 million per year, according to internal memos seen by The Intercept. That's a lot more than the $9 million Google reportedly told employees the contract was worth. What's more, the program may be tied to a much bigger contract, possibly the US military's JEDI Cloud program. The information came from an email chain between Google Cloud head scientist Dr. Fei-Fei Li and other employees. "Total deal $25-$30M, $15M to Google over the next 18 months," Li wrote.
Lockheed Martin is working to develop a high-power fiber laser for fighter jets. Under a $26.3 million contract from the Air Force Research Lab, the firm will design and produce a directed energy system for aircraft, with plans to test the technology by 2021. The move comes after a series of successful tests with similar systems in ground-based platforms – but, the experts say developing a laser for a smaller, airborne design will be a challenge. Lockheed Martin is working to develop a high-power fiber laser for fighter jets. Under a $26.3 million contract from the Air Force Research Lab, the firm will design and produce a directed energy system for aircraft, with plans to test it by 2021.
Military drones that can fly for more than 40 hours and stream footage of US cities will replace police helicopters by 2025, experts claim. Multiple defence companies are now racing to build unmanned aircraft that will be allowed to fly in US airspace - which is incredibly tightly controlled. Leading the race is a long-winged craft called MQ-9B, created by Californian-based company General Atomics. This could allow law enforcement to stream video of cities from 2,000 feet (50 metres) high using cameras that are powerful enough to pick out individual faces from a crowd. Californian-based company General Atomics is investing heaving in a long-winged craft called MQ-9B and are aiming to receive FAA certification to fly in 2025.
The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) recently tested autonomously flying F-16 fighter jets in collaboration with Lockheed Martin. The tests could mark a big leap for military drone technology as these jets could be used in the future for large scale air-to-ground strikes. "This demonstration is an important milestone in AFRL's maturation of technologies needed to integrate manned and unmanned aircraft in a strike package. We've not only shown how an Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle can perform its mission when things go as planned, but also how it will react and adapt to unforeseen obstacles along the way," Capt. Andrew Petry, AFRL autonomous flight operations engineer, said in a press release issued Monday by Lockheed Martin.
The US Air Force is spending $15m on a mysterious drone killing system from an Israeli firm. The contract for'counter-unmanned aerial systems' will supply 21 kits, which are believed to be earmarked for dealing with the growing threat of drones from ISIS. However, details of the kits and how they will work have not been revealed, although it is believed to be a modified version of the firm's existing'drone shield' The deal is with ELTA North America, a U.S. subsidiary of Israeli Aerospace Industries which does produce a'drone buster' called Drone Shield, pictured here. It is believed the new system mixes scanning systems with a system to disable drones mid flight, or cause them to return to their base, allowing them to be tracked. According to Army documents, 'ELTA North America Inc., Annapolis Junction, Maryland, has been awarded a $15,553,483 firm-fixed-price letter contract for counter-unmanned aerial systems.