Help DARPA Control an Army of Drones | TechWell

Help DARPA Control an Army of Drones

It sounds like the setting for an action film: A busy metropolis with urban canyons flanked by skyscrapers that cast shadows over the streets. Too many buildings, tight spaces, and limited visibility in unfamiliar areas make surveillance and reconnaissance problematic. Maneuvering equipment and infrastructure to respond to a potential threat poses an almost unsurmountable challenge. 

However, it’s a real-life scenario that’s on the radar of DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency of the U.S. Department of Defense, which is responsible for the development of emerging technologies for use by the military. To help overcome military challenges posed in difficult urban environments, DARPA has launched its new OFFensive Swarm-Enabled Tactics (OFFSET) program. The goal of OFFSET is to provide help to small-unit combat forces operating in urban environments with drones capable of swarming.

Unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) and unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) are an obvious solution to performing missions such as aerial reconnaissance and building clearance. Indeed, surveillance drones have already been deployed in military operations. However, DARPA would like troops to be able to deploy and control potentially hundreds of drones or “swarms” in real time, using augmented and virtual reality, voice-, gesture-, and touch-based control. Another hoped-for capability would be similar to the playbooks that coaches use in soccer or basketball, with pre-designated plays that could be altered based on real-time field conditions.

To accomplish these goals, OFFSET seeks to develop an active swarm tactics development ecosystem and supporting open systems architecture, including a “real-time, networked virtual environment that would support a physics-based, swarm tactics game.” According to the DARPA announcement, gamers would test potential swarm tactics to see which would potentially work best on various unmanned platforms in the real world. Users could potentially track their performance on a leaderboard, as well as interact with others.  

“We’re interested in developing practical swarm systems in an agile way, so future operators will have the tools they need to outsmart and outperform urban adversaries,” said Timothy Chung, DARPA program manager.

If you’re interested, additional details for the OFFSET program will be provided in January 2017 at, or you can email [email protected].

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