Heron Systems was selected as one of eight companies/universities to participate in DARPA’s AlphaDogfight Trials. Each team went head-to-head in a round-robin tournament; the top four teams then moved on to the next round. Those four teams–Lockheed Martin, Physics AI, Aurora Flight Sciences, and Heron Systems–then competed in a single-elimination tournament.
In the end, it was Lockheed Martin vs Heron Systems to see who would move onto the finals. Heron Systems defeated Lockheed 16-4 to advance to the championship round, where they took on “Banger” (call sign), a USAF weapons school-trained human pilot, in the championship round. When AI (Developed by Heron Systems) went up against Banger in a virtual dogfight, it wasn’t even close. AI defeated the USAF pilot 5-0, and the most notable disadvantage to the human pilot was the time spent searching for the AI pilot. AI was also able to push through the g-force barriers that restrict human pilots.
AI still has a long way to go before USAF pilots will be ready to hand over the stick to AI during combat, a DARPA official said during a live broadcast. Theresa Hitchens of Breaking Defense writes (abridged):
Heron Systems’ AI was extremely aggressive in the games, with its AI pilot consistently able to turn and score killing hits on the simulated F-16 piloted by an unnamed Air Force pilot, with the call sign “Banger,” a graduate of the Air Force’s highly selective Weapons School at Nellis AFB. The AI exhibited “superhuman aiming ability” during the simulation, Mock said.
While the trials were not in any way “definitive” of an AI pilot’s future capabilities or even its viability, Mock said, at the same time “what we saw was that in this limited area, in this specific scenario, we’ve got AI that works.”
DARPA intends to take the simulator used in the trials, and the simulations, to Nellis, where other Air Force pilots can take a stab at trying to beat AI pilots. Next steps will be to move on to testing AI pilots’ capabilities to perform other types of aerial combat missions.
Full Trials Video: