Military scientists investigate networks of tiny robots for counter terrorism and special operations

ARLINGTON, Va. — U.S. defense scientists want to find ways to control armies of small reconnaissance robots able to operate indoors for counter terrorism, urban combat, and other kinds of special operations.

May 1st, 2002

by John Keller

ARLINGTON, Va. — U.S. defense scientists want to find ways to control armies of small reconnaissance robots able to operate indoors for counter terrorism, urban combat, and other kinds of special operations.

This effort is part of the Software for Distributed Robotics (SDR) program of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in Arlington, Va.

Experts from DARPA, industry, and academia are working together on the SDR program to develop a control system that not only would coordinate behaviors and provide user interfaces for thousands of small robots, but also enable humans to task and query the robots as a collective, without the need to interact with robots individually.

DARPA experts are asking industry for ideas on how to demonstrate such a distributed robotic system for indoor reconnaissance applications. The demonstration system is to have at least 100 small mobile robots and user interfaces.

DARPA program managers kicked off the SDR program in 1999, and so far have involved seven companies, universities, and national laboratories: BBN Technologies in Cambridge, Mass.; Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh; HRL Laboratories LLC in Malibu, Calif.; the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory (INEEL) in Idaho Falls, Idaho; iRobot Corp. of Somerville, Mass.; Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M.; and the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Mass.

In the latest phase of the program, DARPA officials want to narrow down the kinds of reconnaissance missions that would be most appropriate for a robotic network, establish a test bed to evaluate different architectures, and plan experiments.

DARPA experts are most interested in experiments that involve detection of targets such as human intruders, sound sources, and chemical agents, as well as those that involve tasks such as covertly locating one target, locating places where targets are concentrated, or ensuring that no targets are present.

The robotic technologies of most importance in this phase of the SDR program include developing machine behavior for indoor reconnaissance, communications approaches, user interfaces, the means to program robot networks for specific tasks, and ways to determine the robots' effectiveness after they have completed their missions.

Responses to this broad agency announcement are due to DARPA as early as May 10, 2002, or as late as April 1, 2003. DARPA officials say the earlier that companies submit their proposals, the better are their chances of receiving contract awards.

For more information contact the SDR program manager at DARPA, Dr. Douglas Gage, by fax at 703-522-7161, by e-mail at baa02-14@darpa.mil, by electronic file retrieval at http://www.darpa.mil/ito/Solicitations.html, or by post at DARPA/ITO, ATTN: BAA 02-14, 3701 N. Fairfax Drive, Arlington, Va. 22203-1714.

The program's proposer information pamphlet is available on the World Wide Web at http://www.eps.gov/spg/ODA/DARPA/CMO/BAA02-14/Attachments.html.

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