The Pentagon Wants AI-Driven Drone Swarms for Search and Rescue Ops

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The project will likely require AI and unmanned systems developers to work together under the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center.

The Defense Department’s central artificial intelligence development effort wants to build an artificial intelligence-powered drone swarm capable of independently identifying and tracking targets, and maybe even saving lives.

The Pentagon’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, or JAIC, issued a request for information to find out if AI developers and drone swarm builders can come together to support search and rescue missions.

Search and rescue operations are covered under one of the four core JAIC research areas: humanitarian aid and disaster relief. The program also works on AI solutions for predictive maintenance, cyberspace operations and robotic process automation.

The goal for the RFI is to discover whether industry can deliver a full-stack search and rescue drone swarm that can self-pilot, detect humans and other targets and stream data and video back to a central location. The potential solicitation would also look for companies or teams that can provide algorithms, machine training processes and data to supplement that provided by the government.

The ideal result would be a contract with several vendors “that together could provide the capability to fly to a predetermined location/area, find people and manmade objects—through onboard edge processing—and cue analysts to look at detections sent via a datalink to a control station,” according to the RFI. “Sensors shall be able to stream full motion video to an analyst station during the day or night; though, the system will not normally be streaming as the AI will be monitoring the imagery instead of a person.”

The system has to have enough edge processing power to enable the AI to fly, detect and monitor without any human intervention, while also being able to stream live video to an operator and allow that human to take control of the drones, if needed.

The RFI contains a number of must-haves, including:

  • The ability to launch from air, sea and ground.
  • Capable of flying for at least two hours at a minimum of 50 knots airspeed.
  • Air droppable from another aircraft in flight.
  • Able to launch and fly to a predetermined search area and follow a predetermined pattern.
  • Capable of searching a geo-fenced area.
  • Sensors able to cover at least 100 square nautical miles.
  • A datalink enabling continuous communication with the ground station or launch platform.

The RFI also notes all training data will be government-owned and classified. All development work will be done using government-owned data and on secure government systems.

Responses to the RFI are due by 11 a.m. Jan. 20.