Shield AI works on drones, drones for the Air Force – Breaking Defenses Breaking Defenses

Drone operators supporting the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit prepare to launch the VBAT Unmanned Aircraft System aboard the USS Portland amphibious transport dock on September 5, 2021. (U.S. Marine / Sgt. Alexis Flores)

WASHINGTON: A small San Diego-based startup is developing artificial intelligence software that could bring the US Air Force one step closer to intercepting drones and autonomous electric planes. onion.

Shield AI announced late last month that it had received a contract with the Air Force worth up to $60 million for a series of projects related to the company’s Hivemind autonomous system, an AI system popularity that the company is developing to control everything from small drones to – potentially one day in the future – fighter jets like the F-16.

First, Shield AI will integrate Hivemind with many V-Bat drones also manufactured by the company, co-founder Brandon Tseng told Breaking Defense in an interview. It can then be green-lit to begin doing the basic work of getting the Hivemind on board Beta Technologies’ ALIA (EVTOL) electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft.

While the US military already has development programs for drones – such as the usable Perdix drones or the air-launched Gremlins – Shield AI has focused on optimizing its autonomy so that a personal drone becomes intelligent and can learn from experience in the field.

“Instead of having a team of professional soccer players, build a single professional athlete and then replicate that pro athlete throughout the team and have them work together,” said Tseng. speak.

The goal is to have a swarm of three to five V-BAT drones ready for operation and production by the end of 2023 and gradually increase the size of the swarm to around 10 V-BATs by 2024 and to to 30 drones by 2025.

“I think people will be shocked and amazed at how quickly they can actually use an active swarm to great effect,” he said.

If successful, the Air Force could approve the next phase of the contract, where Shield AI will begin doing background simulation work to turn Beta Technologies’ ALIA into a fully autonomous aircraft.

Through its Agility Prime effort, the Air Force is working with commercial EVTOL providers as they perfect electric planes tasked with ferrying people through cities, one day turning the Uber version of above does not materialize. The Air Force sees another potential use for the EVTOL aircraft, such as autonomous troop transport, transport equipment or picking up wounded service members on the battlefield.

WHile Tseng believes that the integration of Hivemind will bring clear benefits to the US military, noting that it will also support EVTOL startups as they seek to create a commercial market for the airline industry. Short road carriage.

“Our conversations with a lot of these companies in the EVOTL space were: ‘We need autonomy to really make the business model work in this space. [commercial] market,” he said. “If we have two pilots flying the plane or one pilot flying the plane, then the economics will not be good. We won’t all have flying taxis unless we have highly reliable autonomous systems.”

The Air Force awarded this latest contract through the Strategic Funding Enhancement Program (STRATFI), a special funding arrangement that allows the service to quickly allocate funds to a company for projects that can help. companies bridge the gap between the small business innovation study phase 2 and 3 contracts. At the same time, U.S. government investments must also be matched with private investments.

Shield AI says work on AI-enabled Hivemind for small unit maneuvers, one of the top five innovation initiatives of the Air Force Special Operations Command, Shield AI said in a statement. press report.

“AFWERX STRATFI with Shield AI will enhance the automated collaboration of AFSOC’s UAS, allowing them to cooperate with Air Force Rangers in complex environments,” said Brig. General Justin Hoffman, the director of the Air Force’s Special Operations Command, said in a statement. “Human-machine collaboration is a key capability for AFSOC’s broader transformation to strategic competition.”

Since its founding in 2015, Shield AI has acquired several companies focused on artificial intelligence and drones. In 2021, it bought Heron Systems — the company whose AI beat a human F-16 pilot in DARPA’s Alpha Dogfight tests — and Martin UAV, the company that makes the V-Bat.

The company, which employs about 360 people today, is expected to grow to nearly 500 employees by the end of 2022, Tseng said. Shield AI works on drones, drones for the Air Force – Breaking Defenses Breaking Defenses

Jake Nichol

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