Service Academies Swarm Challenge: Game Play and Challenges

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DARPA's Service Academies Swarm Challenge is an aerial game of Capture the Flag played by swarms of unmanned aerial vehicles overseen by human operators. The competition, being waged by students from the three U.S. military Service academies, is an opportunity for the next generation of operators and tacticians to explore and understand swarm-versus-swarm interactions.

Two teams at a time play inside the Battle Cube, a cubic airspace 500 meters on a side, 78 meters above the ground. Each team has been given 20 fixed-wing UAVs and 20 quad-rotor UAVs and, under the rules of play, can field a mixed fleet of up to 25 UAVs for each of two 30-minute battle rounds. Each team protects its “flag” (a large, inflatable ground target) while trying to score the most points before time runs out.

While people often think about swarms as simply being large collections of robots, swarms in fact have five defining characteristics: number, agent complexity, collective complexity, heterogeneity, and human-swarm interaction. The Service Academies Swarm Challenge is designed to explore these characteristics as they apply to both offensive and defensive swarm tactics, and to harness and leverage them for warfighter benefit.

Operationalizing swarm-related capabilities poses many significant challenges, from technology (e.g., battery size and life, user interfaces) to logistics (e.g., transport, upkeep) to understanding the limitations of what swarms can do. The Swarm Challenge provides an experimental testbed that manages these challenges so the academy students can focus on creating innovative swarm tactics.

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