US deploys biggest ever micro-drone swarm

The US Department of Defence has announced the successful test of the world’s biggest ever swarm of micro-drones.

(Credit: US DoD)
(Credit: US DoD)

Last October saw three F/A-18 Super Hornets deploy 103 Perdix drones from their flare canisters over China Lake in California. The miniature vehicles, which have a wingspan of 30cm and weigh 290g, then completed a series of missions together as a swarm. According to the Department of Defence (DoD), the Perdix drones demonstrated advanced swarm behaviours such as collective decision-making, adaptive formation flying, and self-healing.

“Due to the complex nature of combat, Perdix are not pre-programmed synchronised individuals, they are a collective organism, sharing one distributed brain for decision-making and adapting to each other like swarms in nature,” said William Roper, director of the DoD’s Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO).

“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.”

Originally designed by engineering students at MIT, the Perdix drone was modified for military use by scientists and engineers at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory. It was subsequently upgraded by the SCO using all-commercial components and 3D printing. First tested in 2014, the drones are designed primarily for low-altitude intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR).

The swarm is given general mission directives and decides autonomously how best to achieve them. Video footage of the October test showed the drones being released from the Super Hornets, then conducting a number of manoeuvres, such as orbiting around a single point and flying in a crescent formation.

Perdix is now on its sixth generation, and the SCO is currently looking for industrial partners to help deliver 1,000 drones this year. According to the DoD, the SCO is also working on the “Gen 7” design, which is likely to include more advanced autonomy.