HUNT: Heterogeneous Unmanned Networked Teams

Future Naval Combat Operations and Systems will entail small expeditionary forces with light combat ships (LCS), high altitude long endurance (HALE) vehicles, tactical UAVs, and unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs), which must monitor and protect large and complex areas continuously. These Heterogeneous Unmanned Networked Teams (HUNT) must be able to search for potential threats, identify them, track them, and take appropriate action to neutralize them. Because of the dynamic nature of the battlefield, HUNT teams must rapidly allocate and task different assets to support time-critical intelligence needs, and reallocate and re-task assets in response to the detection of threats or changes in missions. Heterogeneity arises not only from the differences in capabilities and specifications of individual platforms but also because of multiple sensor modalities for detection, identification, and tracking. Further, the HUNT network may not be persistent because of limitations in communications, and HUNT task planning, allocation, and control must incorporate constraints due to communication, while opportunistically exploiting communication whenever available. Finally, HUNT will need to be robust to the dynamic changes that are inevitable in littoral combat. It needs to be responsive to one or more human commanders who might specify conflicting intelligence missions. The challenge for HUNT is to push the state-of-the-art in complex, time-critical mission planning and execution for large numbers of heterogeneous vehicles collaborating with warfighters.

Pushing the state-of-the-art requires a broader perspective in addressing a variety of hard problems. Sophisticated cooperation among intelligent biological organisms, including humans, will offer critical insight and solution templates for many hard engineering problems. To meet this challenge, we have a assembled an interdisciplinary team of leading researchers who have pioneered work in artificial intelligence, vehicle control and robotics, cognitive psychology and human factors, biology, and political economics. Due to the emphasis on heterogeneous cooperation, we have not only assembled a team of vehicle engineers with expertise in traditionally separated domains (UGVs, UAVs, UUVs), but we have also assembled team of experts in traditionally separated biological domains. Our technical approach consists of:

  1. Extracting collaborative behaviors in biology,
  2. Developing bio-inspired cooperative behaviors for heterogeneous agents,
  3. Cooperative behaviors in communication degraded environments,
  4. Optimization based approaches for complex spatio-temporal specifications,
  5. Embedding humans in semi-autonomous missions, and
  6. Individual and integrated experimental demonstrations.

The unique technical strength of our team lies both in our historical commitment to bio-inspired approaches in solving hard problems, as well as in our emphasis on formal approaches that provide guarantees of safe, (sub)optimal, and desirable operation. In addition, our team has an impressive record of DoD transition activities.