A fleet of drones taking off at the same time is easier said than done – until the Navy contacted BMNT for help. The result was a new way to get tech out of the lab and into the hands of sailors.
Not since World War II has the U.S. Navy faced a more urgent need for new technologies to counter the rising threat from the Chinese military. For years, the Office of Naval Research (ONR) had been researching how groups of small, unmanned aircraft could fly together, giving military commanders more flexibility in planning missions with greatly reduced risk to U.S. lives. These so-called “drone swarms” are cheaper to build and less devastating to lose, making them an ideal capability for national defense. With a swarm, if a few drones go down, the mission can still be a success.
The Chief of Naval Research made drone swarms his top priority, but poor coordination among various research teams meant the project was stalled. There wasn’t even agreement on key technical milestones. Without some kind of solution to move the project forward, the Navy’s vision might never get off the ground – foreshadowing a key problem.
That’s when ONR turned to BMNT for help.
We deployed our sprint model – ideal for creative problem-solving – to isolate the key issue blocking the plan. The Navy could not get a drone swarm to take off in unison. Even small drone swarms required groups of people to launch safely and effectively – too cumbersome for real battle success. These drones had to be able to take off together with minimal human intervention.
Once we pulled together the right stakeholders and pinpointed this major sticking point, we were able to design a solution to proactively identify failure points and offer quick health assessments to streamline the preflight process. Then we built a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) to test those concepts against the critical assumptions identified by ONR researchers.
The ONR team used the MVP to get approval for another $650,000 from their leadership, which enabled them to work with the Naval Research Laboratory and other key stakeholders to field a prototype called SARDINE. The learnings from these projects informed a critical juncture - the start of a swarm of drones.
The project wasn’t about autonomy but rather the mundane aspects of ensuring a swarm of drones could be ready at the same time - ensuring a swarm could exist in the first place. Without boresighting on the problem at hand, this issue would not have been addressed. The Navy eventually included this and similar efforts in it's drone swarm initiatives that could plug into Disruptive Capability Office initiatives.