Coordinated swarms of robots can carry out sensing missions that are too complex or dangerous for single robots or humans. Many of these new mission concepts can be performed more efficiently by a new class of minimally capable robots called sensorcraft. Emergent Space Technologies, Inc. is developing an innovative software application called Distributed In-flight Sensor Control (DISCo), that enables the management of sensors in a swarm. DISCo efficiently processes sensor data and adapts to the introduction of new sensors and new sensor processing abilities in swarms of mobile robots. It also provides a cooperative architecture, allowing robots with limited computational capabilities and limited communications range to leverage remote resources on other robots in the swarm. DISCo enables sensorcraft to efficiently provide supporting sensing capabilities for a broad spectrum of uses and to seamlessly integrate hosted payloads onto host platforms.

This Phase IIe SBIR effort is a follow-on to a Phase I and Phase I Option SBIR originally submitted in response to the DARPA SBIR solicitation entitled “Fractionated Picosats.” The primary objective of this work is to develop the DISCo framework, which enables a swarm of mobile robots to remotely operate sensors available on less-expensive but low-capability vehicles (sensorcraft) or hosted payloads in the swarm.

Our current Phase II extension effort aims to culminate in a functional flight test of the DISCo software running on autonomous vehicles to demonstrate mission-like operations. After that test, the software would be ready for adaptation to meet the needs of various missions and hardware after the completion of Phase IIe.

This contract is issued by the U.S. Army Contracting Command – Redstone, under Contract Number W31P4Q-14-C-0081, and is funded by Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).


DISCo provides management for sensors in a robot swarm.


Develop a low-overhead software element or set of elements for use on remote sensorcraft that enables command distribution to, data collection from, and storage on connected/affiliated hardware.

Develop a low-overhead software element or set of elements that can be called upon by one or more robots or hosted payload(s) to perform computations and is capable of commanding the remote sensorcraft, either based on processed data outputs or ground interaction.

Key Technical Innovations:

·        DISCo software implements sensor management and sensor data processing within the NASA Core Flight System (CFS) software framework

·        The architecture permits deployment of software components in almost any configuration

·        Sensor management is decoupled from sensor data processing

·        Online software configurability allows dynamic association of sensor managers and sensor data processors

Key Deliverables:

·        Flight demonstration deployed on a mixed fleet of unmanned robots comprised of quadcopters and rovers

·        DISCo software source code

·        Software Interface Control Document

·        System Requirements Document

Multiplatform Capability. Originally developed for satellite swarms, DISCo has since been adapted to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs).