REMA Program to Create 'Autonomy Adapter' for Commercial Drones Used in Combat Operations

A Skydio X2D Small Unmanned Aerial System drone is flown down the flight line at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, Sept. 8, 2023. The SUAS drone, belonging to the 436th Mission Generation Group Continuous Process Improvement office, is used to provide aircraft over-the-wing and tail inspection capabilities, support facility inspections for the 436th Civil Engineer Squadron and situational awareness support for the 436th Security Forces Squadron and emergency management personnel. (Image: U.S. Air Force, Roland Balik)

Commercial drone technology is advancing rapidly, providing cost-effective and robust capabilities for a variety of civil and military missions. As small aerial vehicles play increasingly important military roles on the battlefield, adversaries are developing electromagnetic countermeasures to disrupt communication links between operator and drone, forcing the vehicle to abort mission, return to its starting point, or crash.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Rapid Experimental Missionized Autonomy (REMA) program aims to enable a drone to autonomously continue its predefined mission when connection to the operator is lost. To achieve this goal, REMA tasks performers with building a subsystem that allows autonomous operation of a variety of commercially available small drones without being tied to a specific drone design. The program also seeks to create mission-specific autonomy software through rapid, monthly spirals of development.

“REMA is focused on creating autonomous solutions to maximize effectiveness of stock commercial and small military drones on the battlefield,” said Lael Rudd, Program Manager in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office. “Through creating an autonomy adapter that works with all commercial drones, regardless of manufacturer, and by developing mission-specific autonomy software that is constantly refreshed and easy to upload prior to a mission, we aim to give drone operators the advantage in fast-paced combat operations. Speed in tech development and on the battlefield is key, and REMA aims to deliver.”

The 18-month, single-phase program is divided into two technical areas: 1) A drone-autonomy adapter interface and 2) mission-specific autonomy software that runs on the adapter. The autonomy adapter will be designed to agnostically detect the drone type and adjust operational parameters to enable the drone to receive mission-specific autonomy software. The autonomy software will be completed in development cycles starting at three-month intervals and accelerating to one-month intervals, to repeatedly provide new and improved autonomy capabilities.