Jan 11, 2017 | By Tess
It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a pack of flying drones?! The U.S. Department of Defense has announced that it has successfully tested a swarm of 3D printed micro-drones. The drone swarm, which goes by the name Perdix, is made up of autonomous micro-drones, with wingspans of only 12 inches, capable of collective decision-making, adaptive formation flying, and self-healing.
The Department of Defense launched the test in partnership with the Strategic Capabilities Office and the Naval Air Systems Command this past October at China Lake, California. Footage from the test, which can been in the video below, shows the swarm of 103 Perdix drones being released by three F/A-18 Super Hornets and subsequently flying together, almost mistakable for a flock of birds flying in formation.
What is amazing about Perdix is that the drones are programmed to actually “think” together. As SCO director William Roper explained in a government press release, “Due to the complex nature of combat, Perdix are 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.”
This approach means that a human operator can give the swarm a relatively general mission, which the machines will then be able to coordinate amongst themselves in order to find the most efficient way of achieving it. The human element, therefore, is still included in the operation. As Roper has emphasized, the drones are not meant to replace humans but can “empower [them] to make better decisions faster.”
The drones, which reportedly use easily replaceable 3D printed components, were first developed by a team of engineering students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. To adapt them for military use, a team from MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory took over the Perdix project in 2013 and has continually been working on advancing and fine-tuning the drone swarm technology. Perdix is currently in its sixth generation, and will likely continue to be improved upon. The recent tests (completed in October), however, did show that in its current form, the drone swarm can reliably function in deployment conditions of -10 degrees Celsius and at speeds of Mach 0.6.
F/A-18 Super Hornets
According to the SCO (in partnership with the Defense Industrial Unit-Experimental), it is currently seeking companies that could manufacture the Perdix drones and potentially overcome obstacle such as battery life. The ultimate goal is to have Perdix swarms made up of as many as 1,000 individual micro-drones.
To learn more about the DoD’s Perdix project, you can always check out last Sunday’s episode of 60 Minutes, which was given exclusive access into the project.
Posted in 3D Printing Application
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