Commercial, Military

DOD Launches Swarm of Micro-Drones from Super Hornets

By S.L. Fuller | January 11, 2017


The Pentagon has successfully demonstrated one of the world's largest micro-drone swarms, the U.S. Defense Department said. Last October, 103 Perdix drones were launched from three Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornets at China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station in California. The micro-drones demonstrated behaviors such as collective decision-making, adaptive formation flying and self-healing.  

Pentagon's Strategic Capabilities Office's Perdix micro-drone swarm. Photo: Defense Department.

Under development by the Strategic Capabilities Office partnering with Naval Air Systems Command, the DOD said this was “one of the most significant tests of autonomous systems under development by the Department of Defense.” 

The Perdix drone was originally designed by engineering students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It was then modified for military use in the school’s Lincoln Laboratory. Perdix software and hardware was inspired by the smartphone industry, installing constant updates to its technology in design generations. In October, the drone was in its sixth generation. It reached speeds of Mach 0.6 and temperatures of minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit and gave off large shocks. 

“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 SCO Director William 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.”

The event demonstrated that teams of small, inexpensive drones can perform the same missions a large, expensive drone can. The Strategic Capabilities Office is currently working with the military to transition Perdix into existing programs of record. It is also endeavoring to find companies that can manufacture Perdix using its current design and is partnering with the Defense Industrial Unit-Experimental to do so. Eventually, the office hopes to produce the Perdix drones at scale in batches of up to 1,000.

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