The U.S. has tested swarm mini-drones

One of the Perdix mini-drones | Photo: U.S. DoD Factsheet

The U.S. department of defense conducted a successful test last October of the deployment of swarm mini-drones from fighter aircraft, demonstrating ‘advanced swarm behaviors such as collective decision-making, adaptive formation flying, and self-healing’.

The Strategic Capabilities Office of the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Naval Air Systems Command deployed 103 Perdix mini-drones, originally developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), from three F/A-18 Super Hornet aircraft over China Lake, California, as can be seen from the video above.

A statement issued by the U.S. Department of Defense quoted SCO Director William Roper as saying, “Due to the complex nature of combat, Perdix are not pre-programmed synchronized individuals, they are a collective organism, sharing one distributed brain for decision-making and adapting to each other like swarms in nature. Because every Perdix communicates and collaborates with every other Perdix, the swarm has no leader and can gracefully adapt to drones entering or exiting the team.”

According to a factsheet issued with the statement, the specs for the Perdix are:

    Propellers: 2.6 in
    Body: 6.5 in
    Wing span: 11.8 in
    Weight: 290 g
    Endurance: >20 min
    Air speed: >40‐60 kts

In Greek mythology, the student Perdix was saved from sure death when Athena transformed him into a small bird after his jealous uncle, Daedalus, pushed him from a tower. Similarly, Perdix must quickly learn to fly after being released from U.S. fighters.

Controlling 100 drones individually would be overwhelming, so much like a sport coach, operators call “plays” (e.g., surveilling a field) and Perdix decides how best to run them. Because Perdix cannot change their plays, operators can predict the swarm’s behavior
without having to micromanage it.

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