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The United States air force have announced they intend to explore the use of uncrewed AI-powered drones. In a press release, the airforce explained they are looking for input from industry about how to develop the drone technology they say will be used for a variety of combat and non-combat applications.
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The drones are being investigated under a program known as Skyborg.
"The primary goal of the Skyborg program is to deploy a modular, fighter-like aircraft that can be used to quickly update and field iteratively more complex autonomy to support the warfighter," said the request for information which was delivered March 15.
Flying by 2023
Still, in its early stages, the program will look for market research and concept of operations analysis to put together a complete picture of information about how to build the drone fleet. The military says they hope to have the drones in operation by 2023.
“We’ve been given the overall objective to have an early operational capability prototype fielded by the end of calendar year 2023, so this is our first step in determining what the current state of the art is from a technology perspective and from a systems engineering perspective to provide that EOC capability in 2023,” says Ben Tran, Skyborg program manager.
Non-pilot personal to operate
According to the request for information, the autonomous drones must be able to avoid other aircraft, terrain, obstacles, and hazardous weather. The drones should be able to take-off and land independently and be operated by personnel with little or no pilot or engineering experience.
The program is still in its fledgling stages, and the exact requirements or outcomes of Skyborg aren’t yet known. The request for information did not mention the need to weaponize the drones. But did state the need for a "separate payload and flight architecture to allow for modular adjustments and adaptability."
This may mean the drone needs to be agile enough to handle different kinds of missions from cameras for surveillance tasks to particle detection sensors for detecting air contaminants.
“Skyborg is a vessel for AI technologies that could range from rather simple algorithms to fly the aircraft and control them in airspace to the introduction of more complicated levels of AI to accomplish certain tasks or subtasks of the mission,” Duquette said.
Google likely to avoid bid
One company unlikely to be making a bid to assist in technology development is Google. The company faced internal and external pressure last year when it was revealed to be involved in the drone surveillance program, Project Maven.
The tech giant eventually withdrew from resigning its contract with the military and then draw up a set of guiding AI principles to help it avoid similar missteps. Google also announced today an independent AI advisory council to help it negotiate the ethics of future AI deals.