Ballista allows a single operator to simultaneously manage multiple unmanned vehicles

New drone OS allows control of multiple types of UAS

The United States is becoming more and more dependent on unmanned aerial systems for everything from surveillance to actual attack missions. In 2012, the Air Force ordered up hundreds of new drones to bolster its forces. By 2021, there may be double the number of drones in use than there are today.

And while traditionally flown aircraft will always be a backbone of defense, the drones play an important role in that they don't risk the lives of pilots and crew when out on a mission. But flying them is different from piloting a manned airplane. It's more akin to video game playing than sitting in an actual cockpit, which is why the military services are trying to recruit video gamers into its ranks. They need people with gaming skills to pilot all the new drones.

A company called DreamHammer could ease the need for pilots in a different way, with its open source operating system that allows a single operator to command multiple drones — including multiple types of drones — at the same time. Called Ballista, the new OS was recently able to complete a series of successful demonstrations for Defense Department personnel to show how it could be integrated into the UAS Control Segment (UCS) architecture used by the drones.

Because of its open architecture, Ballista can integrate into any proprietary UAS, allowing a single operator to simultaneously manage multiple unmanned vehicles, such as Predators, Global Hawks and Reapers. It also can be used with unmanned ground and sea vehicles, the company said.

Ballista comes prepackaged with open and extensible UCS-conforming models, middleware communications and user interface components. These components allow non-UCS-based systems, both legacy and standards-based, to integrate their proprietary hardware and services into Ballista, bringing them up to the UCS standard and allowing them to interoperate with other UCS-based vehicles, sensors and services.

"The UCS standard has defined an architectural model and business practices, which promote maximum interoperability allowing vendors to weave their unique capabilities into unmanned aircraft control systems," said Chris Diebner, CTO of DreamHammer. "By making Ballista UCS conformant off-the-shelf, it offers a plug and play platform for vendors and customers to quickly bring their capabilities to market."

Unifying control of drones with different, proprietary controls has been a goal for the military as its UAS fleets have grown. The Navy’s Office of Naval Research recently developed a software-based universal controller for unmanned vehicles.

DreamHammer plans to provide off-the-shelf support for other global unmanned standards such as STANAG 4586, MAVlink, and JAUS, in addition to other cross-domain standards in future releases.

About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.


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