05:08 PM

DARPA Eyes Mobile Apps To Fly Drones

The agency seeks smartphone app developers to add advanced capabilities to sensors for military aircraft and vehicles.

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Slideshow: Next Generation Defense Technologies
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The Department of Defense (DOD) is looking to mobile application development to improve its development of sensors for drones and other military surveillance, reconnaissance, and intelligence vehicles.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the DOD's research arm, is seeking smartphone app developers for its Adaptable Sensor System (ADAPT) program, according to a statement. The program uses a commercial development model to facilitate rapid delivery and configuration of sensor systems, which typically take three to eight years to develop, the agency said.

DARPA wants to tap innovations in mobile app development to add advanced capabilities to sensors. For example, although drones--aka unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)--already are effective surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft, they could be even more useful if DARPA could create a control application that can fly a swarm of them as if they were one, the agency said.

Researchers already have proven they can fly a miniature UAV with a smartphone app. In September, Boeing Research & Technology and student researchers at MIT's Humans and Automation Lab successfully flew a mini-drone from across the country using an iPhone's touch interface.

[DARPA considers everything that might improve defense--including YouTube. See DARPA Seeks To Learn From Social For Warfare.]

DARPA apparently wants to take technology like this even further.

"The rapid advancement and sophisticated capabilities in today's smartphone technology provide opportunities to revolutionize the way sensor systems are developed and used," said Mark Rich, a DARPA program manager, in a statement. "The integrated processing, storage, communications, navigation, and orientation functions built into smartphone hardware and software can be leveraged to create far more powerful distributed sensor devices than we use today."

The way a drone swarm system might work, for example, is to include perimeter security sensors hidden at an airfield, underground, or aboard small UAVs flying in a swarm that are networked together, according to DARPA. These connected sensors could share data and be programmed to provide a user interface via video to a tablet device held by a soldier on foot.

In fact, the collection, organization, storing, and sharing of video is one of the specific challenges to current sensor development that DARPA hopes mobile apps developers can help solve, the agency said.

Other goals include sharing information over communications interfaces such as Skype, and developing and implementing rich user interfaces to display what is happening in a sensor array on a Google Maps-like interface.

Our annual Federal Government IT Priorities Survey shows how agencies are managing the many mandates competing for their limited resources. Also in the new issue of InformationWeek Government: NASA veterans launch cloud startups, and U.S. Marshals Service completes tech revamp. Download the issue now. (Free registration required.)

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User Rank: Apprentice
2/3/2012 | 11:19:45 PM
re: DARPA Eyes Mobile Apps To Fly Drones
"Swarming" is more difficult that one might think. If a swarm makes a turn, the outer drone has to speed up to stay in formation. Likewise, the inner drone on a turn must slow up. It sounds like a real challenge. I will like to see the final solution to the Swarm.
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