Currently, the American drone force is deployed almost entirely for surveillance or air-to-ground combat, but Naval Postgraduate School professor Timothy Chung thinks the future of warfare will happen in the sky. Chung and his students are building aerial drones that could work together to fight opposing swarms in teams of up to 50 by 2015. In order to launch the "Aerial Battle Bots," Chung's group first needs to solve a number of engineering problems, like how to launch 50 of the small, limited-range drones at once without doing so by hand. His team will also need to figure out how they'll be controlled, by developing algorithms for control and cooperation, appointing a general logistics manager, or some other method.
In an interview with CNET, Chung says he wants to help Naval technology "keep up with the pace of progress." The explicitly martial branding of the project, however, shouldn't overshadow the work he's doing simply to advance autonomous robots. "If you put 'battle' in the title," he says, "people get fired up." While there's always the possibility we'll end up sending drones to fight each other, it's equally likely the technology behind them will be used in either present-day unmanned surveillance planes or in general robotics.