Monday, September 10, 2007

Flocking / Swarming Technology Advancements

This article was posted a couple of weeks ago so I’m behind the power curve on this one. Scientists at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, Israel, have come up with a new technology that would allow Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to control themselves.

They state that future development could see the deployment of UAVs that are capable of controlling battles in the sky. This is not exact new technology however because Atair Inc was the first company to demonstrate algorithms of this nature.

Daniel Preston, lead engineer for Atair Aerospace, Inc. reported that autonomous unmanned aerial vehicles UAVs have flown using flocking and swarming algorithms. Atair AS has pioneering the development and implementation of flocking and active collision avoidance algorithms on UAVs. The technology was first tested December 16-18, 2004 in Eloy, Ariz. where two fleets of five Onyx systems were airdropped and successfully flocked in tight formation to target. Onyx systems are autonomously guided parafoil systems (UAV gliders).

Swarms are the way to go in my opinion. But not only should they communicate with one another they should take care of one another.

Canadian troops in Afghanistan are being put at risk because of the limited capabilities of the aerial drones that provide them with surveillance, say soldiers on the ground. The use of Sperwer unmanned aerial vehicles are being hindered by extremely hot temperatures.

U.S. Air Force RQ-4 Global Hawk UAVs operating in the Middle East have a unique heat problem. Being relatively small, unmanned, aircraft, they do not have industrial strength air conditioning for their electronic systems.

Hot or cold temperatures are condition that a UAV swarms should able to adapt to, cooling down or heating up the ailing element. In this particular case does size matter? This raises an interesting question, are the reconnaissance swarms that are being worked on to large consequently making them unable to adapt to changing conditions. If the swarms were smaller would they have the same overheating problem? Perhaps smaller swarms (possibly insect size) that can fly closer to the ground could take advantage of cooler areas basically addressing the temperature problem.

A novel by Michael Crichton titled “Prey" weaves in this very concept based on nano-bots, although in his book the UAVs go rogue and start reproducing and improving upon their capabilities based on what they had learned that day (a little far fetched). It's interesting that the subject groups that originally were used to come up with the flocking and swarming concepts were small in nature. And that is the very thing that is being disregarded when developing and testing the algorithms. In this case perhaps size does matter.