Northrop Grumman and hundreds of small technology defense firms are making new efforts to fast-track robotics and autonomous systems to war, by seeking new, non-traditional, start-up firms to explore unique new innovations. Hunter Hudson, Director for Northrop Grumman said, “We are working on autonomy, sense and avoid technology and robust navigation in a GPS-denied environment.”

The company held an “Autonomy Pitch Day” recently, which they used to help identify promising start-ups that offer military technological solutions able to make a fast and substantial impact upon emerging weapons systems. This outreach is based on the fact that many start-ups have (and will) come up with unprecedented innovations that may have autonomous applications for the military. Essentially, these non-traditional entities could help spur an influx of product development efforts in this industry.

As the pace of technological change continues to increase, military development of robotics, autonomous systems and unmanned drones and drone systems will become increasingly important. Autonomy in the air is less challenging than ground autonomy (although still difficult), given that there are fewer obstacles in the sky. Algorithms enabling ground navigation are much different due to how quickly obstacles emerge and how drones and unmanned systems need to quickly maneuver or change direction in relation to other moving objects. Nevertheless, the Army expects that its armored vehicles of the future will function with a small fleet of nearby drones for attack or reconnaissance missions, while the Navy anticipates using a “Ghost Fleet” of unmanned surface vessels to carry out missions, share information and transmit time-sensitive data to human commanders. The Air Force hopes to launch autonomous drone swarms from airborne motherships or fighter jets.

Northrup Grumman is looking to start-up innovators to help address the issues that remain for these plans for the future. It is important for large players such as Northrup Grumman to look to these extremely promising, but not yet tested, new solutions to generate significant technological breakthroughs.