EpiSci and PhysicsAI win first DARPA air autonomy program contract

By Vanessa Montalbano / June 13, 2024 at 3:36 PM

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has selected software company EpiSci in partnership with PhysicsAI to develop the first version of “tactical artificial intelligence algorithms for missionized, team-based air combat,” the company announced on Wednesday.

The contract will span 18 months and is worth $6 million, according to a news release from EpiSci.

Under DARPA’s Artificial Intelligence Reinforcements program, the team will be tasked with creating sophisticated multi-agent unmanned products that can be used in contested environments and during “beyond visual range air combat missions.”

The combat drones will undergo the same training and evaluation tests as human pilots, the company said, in an effort to build operator trust within the systems, expand the abilities of airmen and free service members up to focus on higher-level responsibilities.

“Autonomy solutions will initially be developed and demonstrated on human-on-the-loop F-16 testbeds and then transferred to an uncrewed combat aerial vehicle,” the company added.

Software from EpiSci was also used in DARPA's AlphaDogfight Trials and the Air Combat Evolution program, which recently modified an F-16 Fighting Falcon with combat coded machine learning and artificial intelligence capabilities. In May, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall flew aboard the platform, dubbed X-62A VISTA, as the aircraft maneuvered through a series of warfighting scenarios against a manned F-16.

EpiSci on Thursday also said the company has agreed to the terms of a future merger with Merlin, which develops AI flight technology for fixed-wing aircraft.

“With the acquisition of EpiSci, we are uniquely positioned to lead the charge in autonomous aviation, which demands adaptable solutions that work across multiple platforms,” Matt George, Merlin CEO, said in a statement. “We look forward to the final steps in this acquisition so that we can begin the real work of combining our efforts towards a versatile, trusted autonomy solution that unlocks human potential and delivers unparalleled value to our customers and stakeholders.”