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Shield AI buys dogfighting AI developer Heron Systems

Air Combat Evolution (ACE) program
Photo: DARPA

California-based artificial intelligence (AI) software company Shield AI has acquired Heron Systems, another software company known for developing an AI that decisively defeated an experienced Air Force F-16 pilot 5-0, and five other AI-pilots, during the DARPA AlphaDogfight trials.

Shield AI itself is applying self-driving car technologies to military aircraft, in addition to working on developing AI technology for unmanned ground systems.

Together, Shield AI and Heron will accelerate the deployment of advanced AI-pilots to legacy and future military aircraft.

This acquisition is being executed as China recently announced the successful development of an AI-pilot for their fighter aircraft that can defeat China’s best pilots, Shield AI noted.

“Truly special AI companies are incredibly rare assets in the defense market. Heron has developed the most advanced AI-pilot for fighter aircraft in the United States. With China already showing comparable results, operationalizing Heron’s work for programs such as Next Generation Air Dominance must be a national security priority,” said Shield AI cofounder and CEO Ryan Tseng.

“Shield AI enables us the opportunity and scale to accelerate the integration of our AI-pilot on a next generation fighter and UAS. What stood out about Shield AI for us – is that they’re really the only ones who have an operational AI pilot that can operate on the edge without GPS or comms, and this has been proven on combat operations,” said Brett Darcey, Heron Systems GM.

“Whoever has the best AI-pilots will have a decisive and overwhelming advantage on the battlefield – inferior AI-pilots will be quickly destroyed, militaries without AI-pilots won’t stand a chance. The combined Shield AI and Heron team is excited and humbled to contribute to the warfighter, national security, and global stability by operationalizing AI-pilots onboard 6th generation fighters and Group 5 UAS,” said Brandon Tseng Shield AI cofounder and former Navy SEAL.

Heron’s multi-agent deep reinforcement learning framework has enabled its AI software to achieve dominant performance across a range of scenarios, including in the DARPA AlphaDogfight trials, which took place in February this year. Based on the trials, the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) started preparations for the flight of a full-scale jet trainer that will be piloted by AI by 2023.

Heron Systems will operate as a wholly owned division under Shield AI.