The University of Dayton Research Institute (UDRI) has secured a contract to support advanced autonomous capabilities for the US Air Force (USAF).

Awarded by the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), the $88m contract will be executed through a five-year programme known as ‘Soaring Otter’.

Initial funding of $1.8m has already been awarded.

The research and development (R&D) contract will focus on accelerating the deployment of autonomy technologies from the lab to the battlefield.

It will involve testing and maturing technologies such as machine learning (ML), artificial intelligence (AI), data exploitation, neural networks, and neuromorphic computing.

According to UDRI applied sensing division senior image processing engineer and programme’s principal investigator Patrick Hytla, the technologies enable autonomous systems to collect and process the information to know the images/data it is collecting, and then use the same information to implement an action.

Hytla said: “The airforce is increasingly employing the science of autonomy to solve complex problems related to global situational awareness, resilient information sharing and rapid decision making, and UDRI researchers have developed specialised expertise directly related to these areas and to the Soaring Otter programme.

“Our expertise includes machine learning, neuromorphic computing, positioning, navigation and timing, open system architectures, automated decision-making, and flight test planning, execution and analysis.”

Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), cybersecurity, and command and control (C2) systems are the USAF applications for autonomous systems.

Hytla added: “UDRI will lead a team of partners with expertise in these and complementary areas, and who have deep knowledge of how real-world requirements should inform and guide the development of novel autonomy research and development solutions with the greatest potential for transition to operational use.”

In January 2019, UDRI received a ceiling contract from the USAF to support research in advanced structures technologies for aerospace vehicles.