Autonomy for the Warfighter - Participation in SOFWERX

I’d like to use this blog post to summarize some of Asylon’s activities in the military markets this past fall. We were lucky enough to be invited to participate in activities with SOFWERX. SOFWERX is a partnership between the Doolittle Institute and USSOCOM, designed to bring innovative technologies to the warfighter. Located in Tampa, FL, they boast an 8000 square foot facility where tech innovators and the military can come together to create innovative technologies.

We came to SOFWERX as part of the ThunderDrone event, the first of its kind, designed to bring the latest drone technology providers into the same space to demo and receive warfighter feedback.  ThunderDrone invited about 60 companies to present their products, down selected groups, tasked them with a 5-week technical challenge, and then ended with a final demonstration of the technology created during the tech challenge.

DroneHome station loading an Endeavor FirstLook onto a drone.

For the opening of ThunderDrone, we presented DroneHome, our automated battery swap station.  DroneHome has the unique ability to exchange batteries for different UAV types, both extending their mission capability and allowing them to provide 24/7 missions.  With battery technology at its current limited capabilities, current drone missions require an operator to manually recharge a battery and relaunch the drone afterwards. This means that an operator is effectively managing the operation of the drone, instead of focusing on the mission tasks at hand. By having DroneHome automate that portion of the mission, it frees up the warfighter on the ground and in addition, allows for more than one drone to be operated with minimal additional workload.

At the event, our booth happened to be positioned across the aisle from Endeavor Robotics. Endeavor, formerly the Defense & Security unit of iRobot, is the largest independent supplier of battle-tested unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs).  Their FirstLook bot, is a five-pound throw-able, rugged, expandable robot that provides situational awareness and observation from a distance. 

We decided to partner with Endeavor for the 5-week tech sprint to explore expanding the capabilities of both of our products simultaneously.  We wanted to answer this question: Would it be possible to deploy the Endeavor UGV from a distance via a drone? Over the next 5-weeks, we successfully integrated the FirstLook onto our DroneHome platform, allowing it to not only exchange a battery, but also load the robot onto the drone for deployment.  This integration gives us two new distinct advantages: the FirstLook platform becomes deployable from a distance and the DroneHome station now has the ability to load payloads on demand for down stream use. Check out our final demonstration video at the bottom of this post!

Drone dropping the FirstLook UGV onto a roof in Philadelphia, PA

The FirstLook is typically deployed from behind a wall or on the ground floor of a building.  For larger structures, like a 5-story building, this form of deployment may not be possible, but it is with the DroneHome system.  Now a FirstLook can be loaded onto a drone via the station, flown over the structure, and dropped onto the roof of building.  Need a 2nd unit deployed for more situational awareness?  No Problem.  The drone can autonomously return to the station and have an additional unit loaded.  There is now a network of autonomous ground and aerial assets in a potentially unknown operating environment, at the fingertips of the warfighter providing them with a new level of situational awareness. 

From the DroneHome perspective, the ability to load and deploy a five-pound robot has much broader benefits.  That five-pound robot could be a communication node for disaster relief efforts, medical supplies that need to be delivered to a hard to reach location, or even a small package from a nearby store.  DroneHome has the ability to load payloads onto a drone "on-demand" while also maintaining the drone itself, reducing the manpower required to operate and the reducing the learning curves associated with all aspects of the drone mission.  This drastically un-complicates the last-mile logistics chain in a variety of scenarios in both the military and commercial industry.

We are excited to demonstrate this technology further to customers in both the military and commercial markets.  As we continue to build out our technology, we will keep you updated and as always, feel free to reach out to us to request a demo or more information!