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DARPA’s REMA Program: Ensuring Drone Resilience to Electromagnetic Interference


Commercial drone technology has witnessed significant advancements, expanding its applicability in both civil and military missions. As drones play increasingly crucial roles in military operations, adversaries are exploring ways to disrupt communication links between drone operators and their aerial vehicles through electromagnetic countermeasures. These disruptions can compel drones to abort their missions, return to base, or even crash. To counter these challenges, DARPA’s Rapid Experimental Missionized Autonomy (REMA) program has been initiated with a mission to enable drones to autonomously continue their pre-defined missions even when disconnected from operators.

Empowering Autonomous Drones

The REMA program’s primary objective is to empower drones with the capability to operate autonomously when the connection to the operator is lost. To achieve this, the program focuses on developing a subsystem that can enable the autonomous operation of a wide range of commercially available small drones, without being limited to a specific drone model or design. Additionally, the program aims to create mission-specific autonomy software through rapid, monthly spirals of development.

Drone Autonomy Adapter Interface

REMA’s 18-month, single-phase program is structured around two core technical areas. The first area involves designing a drone-autonomy adapter interface. This interface will possess the unique ability to recognize the type of drone it is connected to and adjust operational parameters accordingly. This adaptability allows the drone to receive mission-specific autonomy software, enhancing its operational efficiency.

Mission-Specific Autonomy Software

The second area focuses on mission-specific autonomy software that can run on the autonomy adapter. This software will be developed in cycles, starting with three-month intervals and eventually accelerating to one-month intervals. These regular updates will provide new and improved autonomy capabilities, ensuring that the drone can adapt swiftly to changing mission requirements.

Program Vision:

The REMA program’s core vision is to rapidly advance the capabilities of remotely operated group 1-3 commercial and military drones, ensuring their relevance and effectiveness in various missions. To achieve this vision, the program outlines several primary objectives:

a) Building a Drone Autonomy Adapter (DA2): The DA2 will serve as an interface for drones, detecting their type and facilitating the use of separately developed autonomy capabilities. This adaptable solution may comprise both hardware and software components, as needed to support government-specified drones and the autonomy software’s requirements.

b) Developing Mission-Specific Autonomy Software (MAS): The MAS will empower drones to transition from remote piloting to autonomous mission execution using the DA2 interface.

c) Rapid Software Development: The program emphasizes the use of agile software development practices, commencing with three-month spirals and accelerating to one-month spirals. This approach ensures the continuous enhancement of autonomy capabilities.

d) Government-Maintained Cloud Environment: A secure cloud environment will provide a common platform for software development and facilitate smooth transitions to end-users.

To realize these objectives, the REMA program comprises two distinct but interconnected Technical Areas (TAs):

Technical Area 1 (TA1): The DA2 interface will support government-specified drones, allowing for both hardware and software solutions to ensure compatibility with a wide range of drones. The DA2 detects drone types, adjusts operational parameters, and provides vital data channels and onboard feeds.

Technical Area 2 (TA2): This section focuses on mission-specific autonomy software that runs on the DA2 from TA1. The software will undergo development cycles, starting at three-month intervals and progressing to one-month intervals, continually enhancing autonomy capabilities to support government-defined drone missions.

Collaboration between TA1 and TA2 performers is integral to ensure software compatibility. The program anticipates that all TA2 performers will develop software compatible with products from TA1 performers. An interface control group, chaired by a government representative and comprising representatives from all performers, will govern the TA1/TA2 software interface structure.

All software developed by REMA performers will be securely uploaded to the government’s cloud environment, enabling testing, evaluation, and distribution. The Government will provide feedback based on testing outcomes and identify desired new mission-specific capabilities for each development spiral.

The REMA program’s planned and potential spiral challenges encompass various mission scenarios, such as continued reconnaissance under jamming, autonomous navigation, automapping of ground features, and adversary distraction strategies. These challenges aim to validate and improve the autonomy capabilities of the DA2/MAS subsystem.

Implementation of the subsystem onto current stock drone platforms is a pivotal aspect of the program. TA1 performers must deliver a method of implementation or transfer to drones’ hardware, allowing interaction with various drone platforms in their unaltered state. The program seeks to use group 1 quad or fixed-wing platforms for the challenges and will provide platform models and specified platforms at each spiral, ranging from group 1 to group 3 and originating from diverse countries.

Resilience in a Fast-Paced World

As the world of commercial drone technology evolves rapidly, the emphasis on resilience to electromagnetic interferences is growing. Small aerial vehicles have become increasingly significant in military operations, prompting adversaries to deploy electromagnetic countermeasures. REMA’s innovative approach aims to provide drone operators with a critical advantage in high-intensity warfare scenarios by ensuring drones can maintain their mission paths even in the face of connectivity challenges. The essence of the REMA program lies in speed, both in technological advancements and in military response, ensuring that the drone remains a robust and reliable asset in various missions.

About Rajesh Uppal

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