The world of technology is working on amending the future of drone warfare. It is trying to come up with a system that controls multiple drones at once. More specifically, a team inside Pentagon’s Acquisition, Technology and Logistics directorate is working on ways to operate different types of drones with a single controller, which is no less than a huge challenge as different manufacturers have proprietary control software for their drones.
Getting a universal remote for that can operate, say, an armed Predator and a jumbo Global Hawk spy, makes step one. Quoting Rich Ernst, Pentagon’s lead officer for the Unmanned Aerial Systems Control Segment, or UCS, the objective is to be able to ‘shop’ for mission specific applications and services from a single ‘App Store’.
He went on to say that the methodology is akin to the commercial ‘smart-phone’ industry, where applications are down-loaded to suit individual user taste and productivity. This is where software companies come in.
The guys over at California-based DreamHammer have created Ballista, which aims to be the first-ever multi-drone operating system. It’s a layer that sits on top of the proprietary software governing Predators, Global Hawks, and the rest of the military’s robotic aviary, using application programming interfaces.
DreamHammer’s CEO, Nelson Paez demonstrated Ballista, using display loaded onto his MacBook. The majority of the screen is a 3-D rendered map showing a swath of territory that the drone flies over. Icons show the positioning of the drones, ostensibly in real time via GPS, with color-coded flight paths that a remote pilot can customize.
Tabbed browsing show layers with the mission plan, imagery recorded by the drone, additional aircraft nearby and other relevant info. Switching from one drone to another is a matter of a mouse click.
According to Chris Diebner, DreamHammer’s chief technology officer and one of Ballista’s main designers, Ballista needed the ability to fuse multiple dissimilar data sources (structured or unstructured, real-time or static) from any system into an open, consistent data model.
If ballista becomes successful, remote pilots would be able to put together different types of drones for a single mission, using a common controller.