Shield AI's 'Hivemind' controlled 3 V-BATs as a team

Shield AI has managed to coordinate three Northrop Grumman V-BAT tail-sitting drones to demonstrate the potential for drone swarm coordination in the future.
Christopher McFadden
Three V-BAT Team
Three V-BAT Team

Shield AI  

Shield AI has successfully completed a "teaming demonstration" of three Northrop Grumman V-BAT Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS). A defense technology company building what has been termed the "world’s best AI pilot" is a crucial step to see such a function operational by 2024.

This test was also the final milestone of a USAF AFWERX autonomy effort under its "Strategic Funding Increase" (STRATFI) program and collaboration with the AFRL Sensors Directorate. 

More the merrier

Using ShieldAI's revolutionary "Hivemind AI pilot," the company could deploy three V-BATs to monitor and surveil simulated wildfires. With this test, through collaboration with the United States Air Force's (USAF) AFWERX, Shield AI is now on track to deploy V-BAT teaming capabilities in environments where GPS and communications may be limited within the following year.

“Intelligent, affordable mass that can see everything on the battlefield, execute the mission even when GPS and comms are denied or degraded, and put all our adversaries’ military assets at risk at all times is the holy grail of deterrence. This milestone brings us closer to achieving that reality,” said Brandon Tseng, Shield AI’s President, Co-founder and former U.S. Navy SEAL.

“We had many customers from across the [Department of Defense] DoD enterprise attend the event, and my favorite customer quote was, ‘Wait, you’re flying those three aircraft, doing the recon, and at the same time briefing us?!’ The customers genuinely appreciated that this [wasn’t] merely talk, computer simulations, or a science project leading nowhere. This represents real autonomy on actual aircraft that will most importantly be deployed imminently," he added.

Shield AI explains the "Hivemind" system is very versatile and can be customized for different missions. Its modular open systems architecture allows for easy transfer to other aircraft types. "Hivemind" has experience operating quadcopters, V-BATs, and jets. It can be trained to perform various tasks, such as air defense breach, SCUD missile detection, zone reconnaissance, counter-air operations, beyond-visual-range strikes, maritime domain awareness, and communication-contested operations.

“Autonomy on V-BAT directly supports our autonomy efforts on uncrewed jet aircraft. Beyond our autonomy stack being leveraged across different aircraft, what sets this autonomy effort apart is that it was deployed on a program-of-record aircraft and will be a fielded capability next year. Many DoD-funded efforts, unfortunately, never reach the hands of a warfighter," said Ryan Tseng, CEO and Co-founder of Shield AI.  

"However, Shield AI and AFWERX decided from the start that we would field this capability within the DoD. All our DoD customers — the Army, the Navy, the Marines, SOCOM, and the Air Force — will benefit from this AFWERX effort. Autonomy is a joint capability," he added.

Just the beginning

“What’s exciting to us is not just the capability that teaming V-BATs can bring to the table or how it’s on a great path for fielding with DoD partners, but how autonomy stacks can be leveraged across different aircraft and programs. The continual application of autonomy from small systems, now V-BAT, onto larger platforms provides paths for industry progression and autonomy maturation. The criticality of autonomous capabilities for future programs of record within the DoD drove this Shield AI – AFWERX effort,” said Colonel Tom Meagher, AFWERX Prime Division Chief. 

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