Artist's concept of swarming V-BAT drones.

Artist's concept of swarming V-BAT drones. Shield AI

Shield AI drones demonstrate autonomous teaming under USAF contract

The company says it will operationalize its AI pilot software on V-BAT drones in 2024.

A trio of Shield AI V-BAT drones have demonstrated autonomous teaming, the company announced today, making the Pentagon’s vision of fielding drone swarms a bit more real.

The company used its software-based autonomy product called Hivemind for drone piloting, which “reads and reacts” to the battlefield, according to the company.

“Shield AI showcased its Hivemind AI pilot by launching a team of three V-BATs to monitor and surveil simulated wildfires. The multi-agent, coordinated team conducted Detect, Identify, Locate, and Report missions in a contingency scenario with dual-use applications,” the press release said. 

This marks the “final milestone” of an autonomy effort with AFWERX, Shield AI said. The company was awarded a contract to develop its AI technology through the Strategic Funding Increase program, which is a funding agreement to help startups bridge the valley of death. 

The company said it will be ready to deploy these autonomous teaming capabilities in GPS-denied and comms-denied environments in 2024. 

The U.S. Air Force is increasingly interested in autonomous teaming; its collaborative combat aircraft, or CCA, program seeks new drones to accompany fighter pilots into combat.

Next year will be a big year for Shield AI, as they formulate “not just how Hivemind works on the V-BATs themselves, but more importantly, how we work with the human operators on the ground, how they operate and sustain autonomous systems,” company vice president Brett Darcey told Defense One Monday.

The company will continue to explore how operator actions work through the first release of its command and control software called “V-BAT commander,” and how they deliver software updates to V-BATs in the field, Darcey said. 

“All of that will happen many, many times in 2024 and that'll be a really big learning event for Shield AI as we started looking at, thinking about applying those lessons to CCAs,” he said.  

Earlier this summer, Shield AI announced it would work with Kratos to integrate an AI pilot on the XQ-58 Valkyrie drone.

“Our partnership with Kratos—our expectation is that we'll be flying within a few months. Our plans include a climbing of the aviation food chain inside of Kratos just like we do with our V-BAT. We're not going to just show up on the Valkyrie but we'll be flying in on some of their other drones to get up to the Valkyrie here over the next six months or so,” Darcey said.