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Video Above: Army Research Lab Advances AI to Land Drones on Tanks

By Kris Osborn - President & Editor-In-Chief, Warrior Maven

(Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md) What if, when taking heavy incoming enemy fire, US Army tanks and other armored vehicles were able to launch AI-enabled autonomous drones over the other side of a ridge to find…and help destroy… additional fast approaching enemy forces? 

While hand-launched drones certainly exist today, the concept here would be for drones to autonomously launch, fly, land and adjust mid-flight to emerging variables to quickly learn, adjust and reposition in order to achieve mission success.

Army Research Lab AI-Enabled Machine Learning

This is a paradigm-changing measure of AI-enabled machine learning which Army Research Laboratory scientists anticipate will shape, inform and potentially even drive warfare and concepts of operation 10, 20 or even 30 years from now.

A group of committed ARL scientists are working on advanced, AI-enabled computer algorithms designed to support real-time manned-unmanned “machine learning” wherein human input can enable an autonomous drone to essentially “learn” or “adapt” behaviors in response to certain contingencies. 

The experimental concept is based upon a certain reciprocity, meaning the machine is able to respond to and incorporate critical input from a human. The ongoing experimentation could be described in terms of an “evolution” of a certain kind, as AI-capable systems are known to only be as effective as their databases. This can at times present a certain quandary, regarding how an AI system might respond in the event that it comes across something that is not part of its database. How quickly can it assimilate and accurately analyze and organize new information which is not part of its database? ARL scientists are fast making progress with this “evolution” by training drones and autonomous systems to respond to and incorporate “human” input in real time.

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“Our ultimate goal is to have AI that is robust that we can actually use in the field that does not break down when it encounters a new situation. something new. We are hoping to use this technology to better advance the ways soldiers use that technology and get that technology to adapt to the soldier,” Dr. Nicholas Waytowich, Machine Learning Research Scientist with DEVCOM Army Research Laboratory, told Warrior in an interview. DEVCOM is part of Army Futures Command.

Drone Landing on Tank

Drone Landing on Tank

Waytowich showed a cutting edge video demo in which a drone seeks to autonomously land on a tank, learn new behaviors and potentially respond to new mission requirements. With human-machine interface, a concept long inspiring Army thinking about future war, a drone could potentially make time-sensitive, critical adjustments and learn new information instantly.

“I can take control of the drone, and I can fly it with this…..but when I'm not controlling it, the AI will be in control. And so I can start off by giving demonstrations. But then also I can let the AI fly, if the AI hasn't learned it perfectly and starts navigating towards the truth, I can intervene and course correct,” Waytowich explains.

As part of the demonstration, Waytowich showed an drone landing autonomously on a tank, yet receiving critical new input and instructions from a human throughout its flight. The idea is not just for the drone to follow human commands but rather integrate the new information into its existing database so the behavior and the mission become known and recognizable. For instance, the drone might receive commands from a soldier regarding images its cameras pick up from beneath its purview, and instantly learn both the action itself and the images it receives, making them part of its existing “library” such that it can perform the tasks autonomously moving forward.

“We have tools to allow humans and AI to work together,” Waytowich said. 

-- Kris Osborn is the President and Editor-in-Chief of Warrior Maven and The Defense Editor of The National Interest --

Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest and President of Warrior Maven -the Center for Military Modernization. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven President

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven President - Center for Military Modernization