The United States military successfully launched what it’s calling “one of the world’s largest micro-drone swarms” in October. At a test site in California, the 103 Perdix drones released from three F/A-18 Super Hornets demonstrated sophisticated swarming behaviors, including collective decision-making, adaptive formation flying, and self-healing, according to a Department of Defense press release. The feat is one of the most significant tests of the military’s autonomous flying systems, and was documented in a “60 Minutes” segment Sunday. The DoD shared a video of the test online, and from the ground the sound is terrifying.
“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,” William Roper, director of the Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO), said in a press release. “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.”
The DoD likens the swarm’s behavior to that of a sports team running a coach’s play, in that the swarm responds to specific instructions but decides itself how best to perform the mission. However, unlike most sports teams, their is no single leader among the Perdix swarm, so the drones can adapt to missions regardless of changes in numbers.
Perdix drones are inexpensive and small — with a wingspan under 12 inches — making them attractive for the Pentagon’s swarming missions. Meanwhile, new technologies and modifications made by engineers at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory have equipped these systems with military capabilities once exclusive to larger and more expensive machines.
Last May, the Navy began tests on Low-Cost UAV Swarm Technology (LOCUST), which is capable of launching swarms of reconnaissance drones. The Perdix drones will serve similar surveillance, intelligence, and reconnaissance functions.
The SCO is now searching for companies that can rapidly produce 1,000 units this year.