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U.S. Defense Agency Inviting Proposals for Robotic Radio

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is inviting small business to submit innovative research concepts in the technical domains of Electronics, Information Systems. In particular, DARPA is interested in understanding the feasibility of SQUad Intelligent Robotic Radio Enhancing Links (SQUIRREL) and are looking for proposals for small, lightweight, low-power robotic devices. The proposers can submit their proposals until June 29, 2021.

SQUIRREL seeks innovative solutions that have four criteria. First, they are intended for a squad of no more than eight members. Second, they maintain connectivity among the team as they move and maintain connectivity with higher echelons. Finally, they also minimise size, weight, and power (SWAP).

DARPA expects SQUIRREL solutions will use climbing, flying or hybrid robots to form a self-positioning 3D mesh network that can maintain small-squad communications through a combination of repositioning, frequency selection and beamforming, or focusing a signal toward a receiver. These devices should be quiet, difficult to observe and unlikely to be detected or intercepted.

Additionally, the mesh network must adapt as the squad moves through the terrain, allowing the nodes or devices to experience the best chance of establishing line-of-sight access to drones or other overhead assets to connect for communications with unit commanders. SQUIRREL systems should be designed to support both amongst members of the small unit as well as connecting into the larger U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) grid.

SQUIRREL advances a DARPA project called LANdroids, which used small ground-based robotic radio relay nodes to configure and maintain mesh networks that were capable of reasoning about their positions relative to each other and individual warfighters.

The programme will take place in three phases. In the first phase, the proposers have to demonstrate the feasibility of the technology through evidence of a basic prototype system, definition and characterisation of properties desirable for both DoD and civilian use, and comparisons to competing approaches. Proposers must provide documentation to the feasibility described above have been met as well as the potential commercial applications.

In the second phase, they have to develop SQUIRREL solutions that use robots that have capabilities for locating, self-positioning, and free-space optical means to reach drones or other overhead assets to meet the reach back objective. Proposers must provide distributed control of a set of SQUIRREL nodes to achieve the primary system objectives and demonstrate an area of coverage advantage versus a non-SQUIRREL system.

During Phase 2, proposers will execute the Research and Development (R&D) plan as described in the proposal. They will also complete a commercialisation plan that addresses costs, suppliers, market opportunity, anticipated positioning, and unique intellectual property.

In the last phase, the proposed  SQUIRREL needs to have a plethora of DoD use cases demanding communication for small unit operations in the triple-canopy jungle. DARPA also expects the technology can be used for civilian search and rescue, such as aiding in searchers for lost children or hikers.

SQUIRREL also needs to provide new capabilities to commercial entities with applications that use radio frequency links and distributed control of radio relays. These include exploration of tropical and densely foliated biomes in search of new bases for drug formulation, or population counting of endangered species.

This programme is in line with DARPA’s mission to make pivotal investments in breakthrough technologies for national security. They seek to be the initiator and not the victim of strategic technological surprises. Working with innovators inside and outside of government, DARPA has repeatedly delivered on that mission. They transform revolutionary concepts and even seeming impossibilities into practical capabilities. The ultimate results have included not only game-changing military capabilities such as precision weapons and stealth technology but also such icons of modern civilian society.

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