Information Warfare: Robots That Work Together On Their Own


June 11, 2010: For over twenty years now, various branches of the U.S. Department of Defense have been working on computerized control systems that would enable missiles, sensors and now, UAVs (on the ground or on the water, as well as in the air) to automatically cooperate with each other and relieve troops of a lot of tedious work. The U.S. Navy believes it now has such a system, called SUMMIT (Supervision of Unmanned vehicles Mission Management by Interactive Teams). Work began on SUMMIT two years ago, to make it possible for fewer vehicle and sensor operators to handle several air and sea (and subsea) unmanned vehicles search for naval mines. The prototype of SUMMIT was so impressive that other services are interested in adapting the system for their own needs.

Such automated control systems go back to World War II, when scientists worked out standard patterns for bomber machine-gunners or destroyer captains to use in shooting down enemy fighters, or quickly finding enemy submarines. Thus the concept, and the math, were there long before cheap, and powerful enough, computers were available to carry out these methods without human assistance.

Many UAVs already have automated systems for taking off and landing, as well as for flying routes selected by operators, in addition to  taking care of the “autopilot” functions. But SUMMIT goes beyond that by allowing a pool of unmanned vehicles to do most of the work (usually just searching for things, like targets, mines, roadside bombs, or anything of interest) automatically, while being supervised and controlled by a smaller (than now) team of vehicle and sensor operators. For humans, this work can be very tedious, but by having a team of operators running a larger number of UAVs, the work is more interesting and less fatiguing (boring.)






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