New DCNA-project: NIKE-ROBComm

by Johanna Zweiger

Technical assistance systems, such as mixed drone/ground robot (UAS/UGV) swarms, are pivotal for information gathering and situational awareness during disasters, particularly within urban landscapes characterized by diverse structures across subsurface, surface, and supersurface levels. UGVs and UAS, collectively termed "agents," synergistically operate in swarm configurations to enhance situational understanding in complex and ambiguous operational environments, thereby improving personnel safety and mitigating collateral damage. The imperative is for these systems to exhibit high degrees of autonomy in navigation and operation, thereby alleviating the burden of technical expertise from deployed personnel, enabling them to concentrate on core tasks.

The accumulated insights from a multitude of previous projects underscore the ongoing necessity for advancements in robust machine-to-machine (M2M) communication, coupled with the challenges of deploying and subsequently autonomously navigating robot swarms, as well as integrating and reducing sensor data.

Goals and innovation:

The main emphasis of the NIKE-ROBComm initiative is the development of components facilitating the navigation and operation of UGV and UAS swarms within urban environments, even in scenarios where GNSS signals are partially or completely unavailable. The project encompasses several key areas:
(1) establishing robust M2M communication channels for sensor data exchange among agents leveraging Ultra-Wideband (UWB) technology and complemented by integration with, among others, 5G networks,
(2) pioneering novel, high-performance methods for state estimation to enhance autonomous navigation,
(3) implementing sensor fusion and data reduction techniques to streamline data transmission, (4) orchestrating cooperative task management among agents with disparate capabilities, and (5) delving into social science inquiries, including the integration of such systems into stakeholder deployment strategies.

Envisioned results:

The culmination of these efforts will be validated through integration testing on UAS platforms, with considerations for various payloads tailored to specific task scenarios and modular combinations with diverse sensors. The deliverables include a Proof-of-Concept (PoC) and a comprehensive utilization plan spanning both module and system levels. The project partners contribute extensive expertise from national and international research and development projects to NIKE-ROBComm, ensuring the delivery of practical research outcomes through robust stakeholder engagement and the project's strong emphasis on international professional networking.

Within the project, DCNA is primarily responsible for the field of ​​“operational strategies and training concepts”. For example, DCNA will discuss and refine the use cases and deployment strategies of UAS swarms and the requirements for navigation in urban environments. DCNA is also jointly responsible for communicating the project results, for instance, in relevant international journals and at conferences.

The project has been running since January 2024 and will end in December 2025, it is funded through the KIRAS program of the Austrian Federal Ministry of Finance. The kickoff meeting in Klagenfurt was held on January 22, 2024.

Project partners besides DCNA:

  • Lakeside Labs GmbH (project management)
  • JOANNEUM RESEARCH Forschungsgesellschaft mbH
  • University of Klagenfurt - Institute of Smart Systems Technologies
  • twins GmbH
  • LoconIQ R&D GmbH
  • Austrian Federal Ministry of Defence

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