The Buzz

Who Will Take the Gold Medal in Northrop Grumman's Drone Olympics?

Northrop Grumman conducted a mini-drone Olympic-type competition as a way to further foster innovation within the firm and advance small-drone ISR and attack technology.

The rules were similar to basketball and constructed drones were evaluated according to technical, management and cost criteria.

Four teams, each with multiple vehicles in play at one time, competed to score points by passing and shooting a ball through one of their opponent’s three circular goals, Northrop statements said.

“We started with around 13 teams, pared it down to 8, then to 4. We wanted to ensure that the teams not only had a sound technical baseline and could demonstrate the ability to perform the required technical tasks but that they could do so on schedule and on budget. Methods to control the quads, collision avoidance, mechanical design, and shooting mechanisms were all presented for consideration among other technical aspects,” T.J. Ortega, Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems, Autonomous Systems Public Relations, told Scout Warrior.

Many competing small drones were commonly used “quadcopter” configurations with advanced sensor and maneuverability characteristics.

Small drone technology is an increasing vital area of inquiry among military weapons and platform developers, given the increasingly rapid pace of technological progress in areas such as miniature sensors and autonomy.

Air Force and Pentagon researchers, for example, are currently advancing mini-drone “swarm” technology designed to deploy large groups of small drones to jam enemy air defenses, conduct ISR missions of function themselves as weapons. Swarms of mini explosives, for example, could be used to blanket, destroy and explode enemy targets without putting human at risk of counterack,

Along these lines, developers are working to develop algorithms which allow groups of mini-drones to work in tandem without running into each other. Multiple small drones would naturally be more difficult to defend against given that they would presents large groups of small maneuverable targets.

(This first appeared in Scout Warrior here.)

Also, sensor technology is evolving to the point where increasingly miniaturized EO/IR sensors are able deploy on small drone platforms and conduct reconnaissance missions from increasingly long distances.

The so-called Quad Cup competition was, by design, concluded on the eve of the 2016 summer Olympics and involved more than 1,600 Northrop employees. A team called SlytherING ultimately won the competition.

“After three rounds demonstrated displays of teamwork and technology, Slyther1NG won the trophy. Over the past six months, more than 300 employees and interns representing 17 teams competed to make the final cut and show off their technology at UC San Diego,” a Northrop statement said.

Each team developed their own unique structural designs, software, and autonomous flight ability.

Four teams, each with multiple vehicles in play at one time, competed to score points by passing and shooting a ball through one of their opponent’s three circular goals. 

Kris Osborn became the Managing Editor of Scout Warrior in August of 2015. His role with Scout.com includes managing content on the Scout Warrior site and generating independently sourced original material. Scout Warrior is aimed at providing engaging, substantial military-specific content covering a range of key areas such as weapons, emerging or next-generation technologies and issues of relevance to the military. Just prior to coming to Scout Warrior, Osborn served as an Associate Editor at the Military.com. This story originally appeared in Scout Warrior. 

Image: Creative Commons/Flickr.