Raytheon's New Tech Allows 130 Drones to be Controlled By One Operator

And it works indoors as well as outdoors.
Ameya Paleja
A drone swarm.Chesky_W/iStock

Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Raytheon has many notable achievements ranging from acoustics to computing technology to its name. One of its latest offerings is the ability to control hundreds of drones in a swarm by a single operator and was recently showcased at the fifth OFFensive Swarm-Enabled Tactics, or OFFSET program, organized by DARPA, a company press release said

The focus on drone swarms has always been on how to take them down. From high-energy weapons to expendable drones, militaries are ready to throw everything at them to ensure that an adversarial swarm can be nipped before it causes extensive damage. While Raytheon has its own counter-swarm measures, its recent showcase has focused on how to get a swarm airborne without much hassle. 

Using the integrated swarm control technology, developed by Raytheon BBN, a subsidiary of Raytheon Intelligence and Space, a single operator handled 130 physical drones as well as 30 simulated drones at one time, in both indoor as well as outdoor settings, the press release said. Using this technology a single or a small group of operators would be able to control a swarm of air-based or land-based autonomous vehicles, with minimal training, the company added. 

Interestingly, the swarm control technology does not use high-end computing devices or sensors seen in other sophisticated drones but relies on commercial off-the-shelf hardware which is inexpensive, and combined it custom-built software to deliver swarm autonomy, the press release said. Raytheon BBN built a broad library of simple tactic building blocks that could be used to create plans and then accomplish mission objectives. 

The company went further to create a modular and decentralized approach that can be easily scaled to manage missions allowing the drones to collaborate actively and complete missions in the most effective manner. When assigned a task, the drones can delegate tasks among themselves taking into consideration the capabilities of the sensors they are equipped with, identify the gaps in the mission and then autonomously work to fill those gaps. 

To improve the interactions between the human operator and the drone swarms, Raytheon has created a virtual reality interface that taps into the drone feeds to create an interactive virtual environment during the mission. Using a speech interface, the operator can act quickly during the mission even as they control multiple systems at once, the press release said. 

Raytheon's collaborators while developing this technology are Smart Information Flow Technologies and Oregon State University. The technology contracted by DARPA will also be showcased at the Army Expeditionary Warrior Experiment 2022, the press release said. 

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