Watch: Over 100 Micro-Drones Swarm in Formation

The Pentagon has carried out what it is calling one of its most significant tests of autonomous systems under development by the Department of Defense with the demonstration of the world’s largest micro-drone swarms at China Lake, California.

The test was conducted in October 2016 over the Mojave Desert and consisted of 103 Perdix micro-drones launched from three F/A-18 Super Hornets. During the test the drones demonstrated advanced swarming behaviors such as collective decision-making, adaptive formation flying, and self-healing.

Some incredible video from the test is below:

The test was conducted by the DoD’s Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO) in partnership with Naval Air Systems Command. SCO Director William Roper explains a little more about the significance of the test:

“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,” said Roper. “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.”

A prototype Perdix micro-drone. Image: MIT
A prototype Perdix micro-drone. Image: MIT

Originally designed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology engineering students, the Perdix drone was modified for military use by the scientists and engineers of MIT Lincoln Laboratory starting in 2013. Since then the Perdix hardware and software has been constantly updated. Now in its sixth generation, the Defense Department says October’s test confirmed the reliability of the current all-commercial-component design of the micro-drones at speeds up to 460 m.p.h., temps to minus 14 degrees Fahrenheit, and the large shocks encountered during ejection from the launch mechanism on the fighter jets.

The new technology was recently featured in a CBS “60 Minutes” segment, along with other new technology from across the Department of Defense such as the Navy’s unmanned ocean-going vessel, the Sea Hunter, and the Marine Corps’ Unmanned Tactical Control and Collaboration program.

The SCO says its goal is to scale the size of the swarms to batches of up to 1,000.