back to article You can be my wingman any time! RaspBerry Pi AI waxes Air Force top gun's tail in dogfights

Today's generation of fighter pilots could be the last of their breed, thanks to an AI system dubbed ALPHA that's proving unkillable in air combat. The US Air Force has just completed dogfighting trials in a simulator, pitching the software against retired Air Force Colonel Gene Lee. The AI – which ran on a $35 RaspberryPi …

Silver badge

"forces to be deployed without human loss of life"

On your side. While that is generally a good thing, if it makes politicians more trigger-happy it is probable not.

37
0

Re: "forces to be deployed without human loss of life"

Quite. It also depends on where and why you are fighting the war. Having just read Robert Fisk's "The Great War For Civilisation" , I find my beliefs in question and now I find I'd rather we never sent a drone of ours overseas ever again...

4
0
Silver badge

Re: "forces to be deployed without human loss of life"

Years ago, I watched documentary about cats.

They said that cats rarely fight, because of displays of power - the weaker cat would soon realise it was the weaker cat, and thus bugger off to hiss another day.

This documentary, Tiger on the Tiles* by Desmond Morris IIRC, doesn't fully inform my armchair strategic thinking.

Nor does that episode of Shatner Star Trek, the one when a star system's internal battles were simulated by a computer and the virtual causalities calculated - then each side would have to kill a corresponding number of its own citizens. It was neater - no infrastructure damage.

I guess the film The Last Starfighter, is now out of date. (In this film, a young 1980's American lad proves to be very good at an arcade video game. It turns out that the video game arcade cabinet was a plant by aliens involved in their own war, and that they were recruiting pilots from uncontacted planets. )

WHOOAH! I've just Googled the above film - It turns out Seth Rogan has been wanting to remake it, but he tweeted that Steven Spielberg told him that not even he has been able to get the rights - the film's writer won't give it up. Probably a canny move - the film might be more powerful in a few years time if recreational Human Interfaces (VR, HUD, AR etc etc) come closer to military gear.

*Yeah, I was watching cat video before broadband internet.

** I like Ricard. Not Picard, Ricard. Which I have been drinking tonight. With water, obviously; I try not to be a jerk. But I may be off topic ish.

6
1
Silver badge

Re: "forces to be deployed without human loss of life"

No humans killed, just foreigners. If they are not Americans then they don't count as people, just as targets.

10
2
Silver badge

Re: "forces to be deployed without human loss of life"

"While that is generally a good thing, if it makes politicians more trigger-happy it is probable not."

This is a sentiment I see a lot, but it doesn't really make a lot of sense given an awareness of history and human nature in general. Numerous weapons have been touted as bringing about an end to warfare because, the machinegun being a particularly well known example, but every time they've been immediately deployed as enthusiastically as ever. The only thing that comes close to being an exception is nuclear weapons, but even those were used a couple of times and there remains a very realistic possibility that they will be again in the future. Importantly, when it comes to politicians being trigger happy, even the existence of nuclear-armed superpowers able to wipe out all human civilisation at the push of a button wasn't enough to stop them repeatedly going to war both with each other and anyone else they could find lying around the place.

If knowing more people will die doesn't make politicians less likely to go to war, how likely is it that the reverse will happen if they think less people will die. Since the end of WW2, the USA has started a new war (or military intervention of some sort) an average of every 3 years. How much more eager to start wars could better planes make them?

On which note, it's important to bear in mind that this is only about fighter planes anyway. The vast majority of combat losses are not fighter pilots, or indeed aircraft crew of any sort. Many ground support roles are already done by drones, but even replacing all pilots with AI wouldn't make any difference to the losses that would occur once boots are on the ground. And given the degree of air superiority the US, and the West in general, currently enjoys in all the wars they get involved in, having slightly better planes wouldn't make any significant difference at all. The only opponents this would make any real difference against would be Russia and China, and fighter pilot losses are hardly the important factor that will tip politicians into wanting to start those ones.

2
1
Silver badge
Gimp

Re: "forces to be deployed without human loss of life"

Mmm,. And of course when the enemy ha AI, you just fight the fight in virtual reality.

However that's not the really alarming or exciting thing. Its just how much AI you can pack into a small computer.

That means a $500 autonomous drone could in theory be set loose to - well - assassinate someone.

And you might never know who was behind it.

It scuttles into a corner, plugs itself into the nearest USB socket charges itself up, connects to the internet (its INSIDE the firewall now) and looks like a USB flash drive, uploads anything useful, gets fresh orders, then extends legs and scuttles around before shooting a poison dart into an ankle.

The Apple I-Spy (lethal upgrade)

0
0
Silver badge

How big is the hardware this runs on?

But yes, soon a new generation of fighter planes will be designed around an AI system. (If there's enough money left after the fascinating omnishambles known as the F-35. Aw, what am I thinking - of course there will be money for it!) Let's just hope a system like that isn't hacked.

4
8
Silver badge

FTA: "The AI – which ran on a $35 RaspberryPi computer"

So, not very big.

30
0

It's running on a Raspberry Pi. About the size of a credit card and as thick as a USB port.

6
0
Silver badge

But it needs to be "militarised"

Remember the $10 toilet seat that cost $700 to be installed in some fighter?

Think the $35 Arduino that after Lockheed-Martin/Boeing/MIPC and all the reviews and beltway analysis will cost $350,000 (initial, $400,000/year min for maintenance.)

And now it won't even work. And by the time congress has voted 45 times, the opponents have moved on to AI forms far superior.

Ahhh. The days when any fly-boy could get in his crop duster and drop a home-made incendiary on something. Those were the days.

1
2
Silver badge

Re: But it needs to be "militarised"

Why was a toilet seat being installed in (or on) a fighter plane?

22
0

Two stacked USB ports, if it's a B-series Pi (which is likely...given when the encounter is said to have been, it's very likely a Pi2B was used), or a single USB port for the A+, plus the thickness of the PCB and some short protruding pins and chips on the bottom.

For most people, the relevant size is that the PCB is the dimensions ISO sets for a credit card.

One really has to wonder what kind of market there would be a Pi AI add on to a commercial combat flight sim. Might actually be worth more (and with better margins) than selling this stuff to governments as unit sales would likely be *way* higher.

1
0

Re: But it needs to be "militarised"

It wasn't. It was in a bomber. The extra money was the usual paperwork, but not distributed over several hundred of them. Same with the stories about extremely expensive hammers.

4
0
Silver badge

"...and as thick as a USB port."

What is the usual IQ of a USB port then? How do Thunderbolt ports compare? What about firewire?

14
0
Bronze badge
Pirate

Re: But it needs to be "militarised"

Why was a toilet seat being installed in (or on) a fighter plane?

Might be very useful when a meat sac realises he is up against one of these?

6
0
Silver badge

Re: But it needs to be "militarised"

Why was a toilet seat being installed in (or on) a fighter plane?

If memory serves me right, the seat in question was on board of B1-B. That one one of the many examples of ridiculous overspend and fleecing the public by military equipment contractors during the rule of the late president RayGun. Unfortunately, what got established during his reign continues ever since.

In any case, all bombers have toilet facilities as they are intended to fly 16h+ missions with in-flight refuel in order to send that friendly greeting to another nation. Even something just barely bigger than a fighter like the Su-34 Platipus has a toilet. Dunno about fighters though.

2
0
Silver badge

Phew that's a relief.

As the UKs future (post Brexit) looks a bit grim at least we'll be able to afford the best AI fighter pilots in the world.. Plus with the low power requirements of the R-Pi it should fit neatly into our front line squadrons of Sopwith Camels ... Chocks Away Ginger.....

6
0
Anonymous Coward

If someone was shooting at me

I'd shit myself!

0
0
Silver badge

Re: But it needs to be "militarised"

Shhhhh! The USAF are trying to keep a lid on it now.....

0
0
Silver badge

Re Phew thats a relief

Sopwith Camels would have pretty much a non-existant radar response too! Stealth attacks that would be mistaken for the local youth on a moped would be all the rage.

2
0
Anonymous Coward

Re: But it needs to be "militarised"

If memory serves (because I'm too lazy to look it up), costs were high due to the overzealous operating-parameter specs and that they were turned out on a rather expensive lathe.

0
0
Anonymous Coward

Re: But it needs to be "militarised"

Toilet seats were expensive because the rules at the time requires that everything be put out to bid even if it was only one toilet seat that was needed. Companies would put in bids for supplying hundreds or thousands of toilet seats because nobody want's to bother supplying a bid for one. As a result the government winds up buying a few hundred when only one was needed with the spares going into a warehouse where they would sit and finally be auctioned off as a single lot for pennies on the dollar. Thus the entire cost is absorbed by the single used toilet seat. Recently someone pulled their head out and decided that COTS items picked up locally were a far better deal than the bid system since even if it isn't quite "fair" to the contractors it's more fair to the taxpayers.

1
0

Re: But it needs to be "militarised"

"Why was a toilet seat being installed in (or on) a fighter plane?"

So the pilot could take a shit, DUH!

0
0
Silver badge

Re: Re Phew thats a relief

I played a flight sim in a camel and shot down an ME109

Very manoeuvrable, is a camel.

0
0

Re: But it needs to be "militarised"

Because it's scary being in a fighter plane?

0
0
Silver badge

T500

Anyone else thinking rise of the machines ?

10
0
Silver badge
Windows

Re: T500

Agreement factor 75%

At this point, seems to be more like "chessmasters in the sky". They are not slowed down by any remains of human fighting ritual, so this is like fighting a lawnmower while taking on the role of the possum. Once they get autonomous enough to take off from the carrier and do CAP all by themselves, it's going to be interesting.

Then someone with connections to the MICC will propose to close the feedback loops and give these things nuclear ramjets, just to be sure...

I have never heard of this particular decision fuzzification (is there a book from Springer yet?), but I remember the good old rule-based "TacSoar" (based on SOAR with the "chunking"/rule-learning stripped out) trying to assist air missions back in the 90s (the time of "Strategic Computing Initiative" and all that). It was not very successful and also easily confused by ground-hugging kangaroos, IIRC.

4
0
Silver badge

Re: T500

Yes, indeed. I would hope the meatbag pilot would still be aboard if for nothing else than to override the AI. But then that put's limits on the aircraft's performance. So... a bit of sentience might very well be a bad thing.

0
0

Re: T500

Yes, me too.

Dear Scientists, please stop building Terminators...

7
0

Re: T500

Not really, as long as this is a RPi2 then I can take out the system* with a high-power LED flashlight or LASER. Unless they strategically apply some electrical tape to it.

*reboot, or other disturbance via the 5v rectifier chip error on that device

Also, I agree with that guy ^^^. In that I find it unfortunate that a lovely hobby computer might be used to kill people. Can't they use some Intel clone for the dirt work?

4
1
Silver badge

Re: T500

No, I'm thinking of the X-9 Ghost in Macross Plus, or the F/A-37 Talon in Stealth.

0
0
Silver badge

Re: T500

decision fuzzification

Not new, just approached from AI/Machine Learning perspective.

Russian guidance systems have been using probability space calculations for two decades to more or less the same effect. They do that by applying a differential inclusion to a set which describes a discrete representation of the probabilities of target actions. In laymen terms - instead of applying a deterministic calculation to the target current vector (like some of the BAE crap), it applies a similar calculation to the probability space of immediate future target maneuvers based on current and previous vectors and continuously adjusts it. It also does using appropriate multiple pursuers, single target equations for a multiple rocket launch scenario.

As a fundamental idea this is similar - you do not work with deterministic data, you make up (by randomization) a probability space out of it and you apply an algorithm (in this case a machine learning one instead of differential inclusions) to it. You also continuously adjust it via a feedback loop (same as Russian diff incl/prob space algos).

As a result the machine in either case ends up thinking one step ahead. Even if the wetware in the opponent had a couple of preplanned moves initially, it is quickly out-computed in the initial encounter. After that the human ends up being reactive and not being able to think ahead due to timing constraints. So the AI (or the probability based algo in the Russian case) kills him at short notice.

6
1
Silver badge

Re: T500

Its not just the rise of the machines that you have to worry about - its the rapid approach from any angle.

1
0
Silver badge

Hopefully this will mean cheaper planes

Without the need to protect a human life inside, it seems like the correct strategy would be to make them cheap and numerous, rather than loading them up with all the bells and whistles like stealth and supersonic capability. Heck, maybe they don't even need missiles, if they're cheap enough they can just ram their targets.

I doubt the US will go the "cheap" route because that would mean less profit for the aerospace industry, but you can bet the Chinese will. If it ever came down to an air war between the US and China, where the US has a few thousand $100 million AI drones and the Chinese have a few tens of thousands of $2 million AI drones, I know which side I'd place my bet on.

10
1
Silver badge

Re: Hopefully this will mean cheaper planes

The first thing to employ would be nuclear weapons to clear the skies, followed by anti.aircraft missiles...

2
0
Silver badge

@DougS -- Re: Hopefully this will mean cheaper planes

I'm not so sure... back in the Cold War, the US decided it couldn't afford the numbers of main battle tanks to take on the Russians. So they came up with M901 which basically was a cheap, expendable tank destroyer. Since then, TOW missiles are deployed on everything from HumVees to armored personnel carriers. Everything can be a "tank destroyer".

It's possible that the DoD would consider low-cost and in large numbers for this as occasionally, they do get it right. The AF, however, probably won't like it as they like the dashing fighter pilot image.

7
0
Silver badge

Re: Hopefully this will mean cheaper planes

>The first thing to employ would be nuclear weapons to clear the skies, followed by anti.aircraft missiles...

I'm assuming you mean the EMP effects of nuclear explosions. That'd do it.

Research into EMP blast is ongoing - both in the offensive ("can we make an EMP 'cannon' without a nuke?") and defensive ("How do we protect our shit if our enemy uses EMP?")

4
0
Silver badge

Hopefully?

Do you seriously think we need to make wars cheaper? After all in our current wars are highly asymmetric. Wars aren't fought between equal states, they are now fought between powerful states an some ill-defined groups of people. Particularly with drones the risk on the state side is close to zero.

At the same time you will have large parts of the population living in constant fear. Every drone strike could kill them and their families even though they haven't done anything. And no, they cannot flee, as people like Merkel closed a deal with Erdogan so Turkey won't let them through to Europe, or airlines being forced to pay the cost of bring refused refugees back, or refugee ships being prevented from entering harbors.

Then if you look at the people the states fight against, you'll find that those are often exactly the people which have been militarized in the first place:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taliban#Background

And if you look deeper, you'll find that much of this is based on thinks like The Sykes-Picot Agreement:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sykes%E2%80%93Picot_Agreement

You cannot solve problems by killing people on mass. Making war even cheaper will certainly not help.

This isn't "SWAT Kats"!

4
0

Re: Hopefully this will mean cheaper planes

You would think the 'Muricans would have learnt that lesson from WW2...

Specifically the M4 vs the Tiger..

One a superior engineered war machine.. The other a mass produced heap-o-junk...

0
0
Silver badge

Re: Hopefully this will mean cheaper planes

One a superior engineered war machine.. The other a mass produced heap-o-junk...

Arguably the Germans had better small arms, better artillery, better tanks, better ships, better submarines, better field transport than almost anything the Allies had. The only military assets that the Allies had that were incontrovertibly better than the German equivalent were medium and heavy bomber aircraft (and perhaps aircraft carriers), and arguably something of draw on fighter technology. You can argue the toss on specific types and niches, but overall that's a reasonable summary.

So it would appear that cheap junk trumped superior engineering. Presumably this is the logic behind the F35: "No point in superior engineering, the enemy can afford cheap junk that'll win, so we need to counter with something they can't create: Expensive junk."

2
0
Silver badge

Re: Hopefully this will mean cheaper planes

To employ a Napoleon misquote "God is on the side of the big battalions"

0
0

Re: Hopefully?

<quote>

You cannot solve problems by killing people on mass. Making war even cheaper will certainly not help.

</quote>

Oh but you can, you just need to do it thoroughly and brutally, ie the way things were done historically.

There would be no refugees fleeing if there were no refugees left.

No refugees would flee a warzone where they risk death to enter an enemy territory where they faced almost certain death at the hands of an organised military force.

Insurgents could not hide amongst civilian populations if the rulers were willing to systematically wipe out civilians until the insurgency stopped.

A lack of morals and a willingness to do whatever necessary is a significant advantage in any war.

5
0
Silver badge

Re: @DougS -- Hopefully this will mean cheaper planes

"The AF, however, probably won't like it as they like the dashing fighter pilot image."

Except it appears to be the AF leading this charge to do away with fighter pilots. There seems to be some divisions within the ranks.

1
0
Silver badge

Re: @DougS -- Hopefully this will mean cheaper planes

Well, tanks are a different matter because of the armor and relatively slower speeds at which they travel. Having a million unarmored unmanned tanks does you no good, as they would be easy to destroy so the only hope they'd have of stopping a good tank would be having so many burning carcasses in the way the good tanks couldn't get past :)

Since planes aren't armored (at least not to any degree that matters in terms of the ability of other planes to destroy them with large caliber bullets, let alone missiles) and travel much faster, a horde of cheap planes could do a lot of damage. If they relied on kinetic kills they wouldn't need to be all that big, and could probably be made for a few hundred thousand dollars each. A simple jet engine good for 400-500 mph could get it in the ballpark of its target, and a solid rocket booster on the back could give it some extra pep in its step during the last couple seconds to maximize the damage and make it harder to avoid.

Yeah yeah, you can clear the sky of them with a nuke, but I'm kind of assuming a war wouldn't go in that direction. If you're using nukes, every other piece of equipment in a war like planes and tanks becomes irrelevant anyway. It will be ICBMs and sub launched nukes with mutual assured destruction, and the world is fucked.

As for it being a bad idea to make a war cheaper, I'm not delving into the morals, I'm thinking in terms of what a military should do to best prepare itself for the conflicts they'll face in a decade. If the US decides "well we don't want to make war cheap, that's a bad idea, so let's keep throwing money away on manned boondoggles like the F35" while China and Russia are making the drone horde I outline a reality - and selling it on the open market, the US is going to be screwed in a conflict. Wouldn't matter if his plane had perfect radar invisible stealth, a human pilot facing a horde of a few dozen of those things will end up dead if he doesn't run away.

0
0
Silver badge
Thumb Down

Re: Hopefully this will mean cheaper planes

Don't know where you're getting the "Germany was superior in every respect" thing but it's incorrect.

Better field transport? Are you referring to horses and feet? The Germans relied on horse-drawn transport to move supplies to the very end. Most German troops walked or were moved by rail. Neither served very well on the Eastern Front where good roads and rail were not available. Their only real cross-country mobility was in their tanks. The US Army was almost entirely motorized, using excellent all-wheel-drive deuce-and-a-half trucks to carry supplies and troops, even where the roads were awful or nonexistent. It was US mobility that enabled the Bulge to be contained, moving troops to block German moves faster than the Germans could advance.

Hitler failed to secure his western flank because they simply lacked the ability to invade the UK. A few years later the Allies would show them how it was done at Normandy.

They did invent the excellent STG-44, but these appeared too late and too few to make a real difference. The average field troops carried K-98 bolt-action rifles, at a disadvantage to the M1 Garand semi-automatic. They didn't build the MP-40 until Soviet forces with plentiful submachine guns started trashing the K-98 armed troops in close quarters combat. Kudos to the MG-42 which was a real terror, and its descendants live on today.

Both sides had their high and low points in engineering. It's totally incorrect to state "Superior war machine vs. mass-produced junk."

1
0
Coat

The Goverment bid....

Suddenly Pi's will cost $3.14 million each from Lockheed!! And take twenty years to deliver.

22
1
Silver badge
Coat

Re: The Goverment bid....

Don't panic! According to the headline it's using a RaspBerry Pi, and the article says it's a RaspberryPi - so I think the Raspberry Pi is safe from that possible future.

1
0
Silver badge
Boffin

I S'Pi with my little eye...

Let's see if I've got this right:-

* An AI system of very high complexity and speed can run on a Raspberry Pi.

* It can seemingly beat a wetware Top Gun who's hosed other very expensive AI systems.

* The AI software presumably fits on either an SD card or a USB drive ('cos that's the way Pis work)

* This is the same RasPi that my grandkids use with Scratch, right?

So, either all the aerospace companies are ripping off the US/UK/EU taxpayers by saying they need squillions to develop airborne AI systems, or ...

My Bovine Excrement Meter is telling me that April 1st has reappeared on my calendar.

Obviously boffin icon material (or is that materiel?)

6
3
Silver badge

Re: I S'Pi with my little eye...

So, to boil your post down to its essentials: You're asking why it is possible for some software ( game playing in the realm of physics) has been developed for an ARM chip which is better than that written for some other chip from a year or two back...

I'd say it's plausible. The thing about software is that you can never know if your algorithm is the fastest that can be written. Also, the last few years has seen a lot of work down on autonomous vehicles - there is more prior work to draw upon.

If you've ever tried to swat a fly then you will know that the hardware to control some damned good flying doesn't have to be big - if the software is good enough.

[You've used the wrong icon. If you hover your POINTER over the ICON it will tell you when it should be used. If you don't have a mouse or trackpad - i.e you are using a phone or tablet - then it might be best if you don't use any Reg icons, since the lack of MouseOver means you won't know what they mean.]

4
3
Silver badge

Re: I S'Pi with my little eye...

It all depends on the parameters. Suppose for a moment we're thinking in terms of air-to air gun combat (I'll get onto missiles in a moment). Further, suppose that you're pitting human against AI in identical aircraft. The AI has the edge because it can pull high-G manouvres until either its fuel runs out or it overdoes it and snaps a wing off. The human may be able to pull high-G manouvres for a while, but will eventually tire and also probably won't cope as well with high positive G followedby high egative G and back in quick succession.

Some years ago I recall reading that AI based on that used in the game 'Creatures' had found a novel tactic in air combat - that of the eternal barrel-roll, which made it nigh on impossible for a human pilot to get a firing solution on it. On the other hand, the AI coudl work out just when it could shoot with a reasonable chance of hitting teh human-piloted plane, even with teh human taking evasive action and it doing its eternal barrel-roll.

If we consider missile combat, in order to shoot, the target can be in a rather larger area of sky as compared to if a gun solution is required because the missile is guided. Defensively, the AI has the advantage because it can pull more extreme manouvres (and can time them more precisely) in order to try to evade incoming missiles, whilst offensively it can better take advantage of very fleeting firing solutions that a human might not be able to react to.

Things get more complex when ECM (electronic countermeasures) chaff and flares and suchlike are available to aid defence, and I wouldn't like to guess as to whether the AI has the advantage with them in the mix or not (I've only flown virtual aircraft, of up to Korean War vintage) But absent them, yes I can believe that an AI pilot could do a better job of getting a firing solution on a human than vice-versa. Air combat is much simpler to program for than ground combat - far fewer variables to cope with.

2
0

Page:

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Forums

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2017