[ASC-media] Media release: air defence swarms

JCA Media jcamedia at starclass.com.au
Thu Aug 19 08:44:33 EST 2004


August 19, 2004


Swarms of small expendable unmanned aircraft may soon become part of Australia's defence arsenal.

Mathematician Alex Ryan is one of a team of Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) researchers who are developing control systems for multiple Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs).

The UAVs could be used for surveillance of possible enemy activity, as small weapons carriers, or to investigate areas too dangerous for human entry.

"We're working at the edge of chaos," says Mr Ryan. "There's a fine line between systems which are too ordered, and which stagnate; or systems which are too chaotic, and which collapse into complete disorder."

Mr Ryan says that by using advanced mathematics and state-of-the-art computing, his team is designing what he calls 'collective intelligence' for groups or swarms of UAVs.

"Swarm behaviour as such is not what we are after," he says. "Swarms - like the notorious killer bees - concentrate on attacking a single enemy in vast numbers. Our aim is rather to develop an intelligent and communicating network.

"Each 'agent' in the network has its own utility function," he says, "while there is an over-arching utility function for the whole system. It is vital that the agents don't work at cross-purposes, and they must each be able to react to unexpected circumstances."

Mr Ryan says that many small, simple and inexpensive UAVs, costing not more than $20,000 each, are a more practical answer than larger, more sophisticated vehicles costing millions of dollars.

Mr Ryan also says that much work needs to be done to reduce the imbalance between unmanned vehicles, and the people who control them.

"At present, each unmanned aircraft needs a ground crew of about thirty people," he says. 

Australia too poses its own special problems, as imported technology may be quite unsuitable for our topography, according to Mr Ryan.

"We are in a 'littoral' region, with miles of coastline and chains of islands. And we have a vast interior. These geographical features make quite special demands on the design of unmanned aerial vehicles," he says.

Mr Ryan is one of more than 160 eminent Australian scientists available for interview about their work and science in general during National Science Week. For details visit: www.scienceweek.info.au and click to the media site.

To contact Alex Ryan: phone 08 8259 7665

For information on National Science Week:
Telephone: 02 6205 0281
Mobile: 0407 781 891
Facsimile: 02 6207 0072
E-mail:scienceweek at orac.net.au

For more events in National Science Week 2004, please visit:

National Science Week is supported by the Commonwealth Government Department of Education Science and Training (DEST) and the Department of Industry Tourism and Resources (DITR).

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