The Department of Defense and the Strategic Capabilities Office, partnering with Naval Air Systems Command, demonstrated one of the world’s largest micro-drone swarms at China Lake, California. 103 Perdix drones launched from three F/A-18 Super Hornets demonstrated advanced swarm behaviors such as collective decision-making, adaptive formation flying, and self-healing.
(Micro-Drone swarm demonstration video)
“I congratulate the Strategic Capabilities Office for this successful demonstration,” said Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, who created SCO in 2012. “This is the kind of cutting-edge innovation that will keep us a step ahead of our adversaries. This demonstration will advance our development of autonomous systems.”
“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 demonstration is one of the first examples of the Pentagon using teams of small, inexpensive, autonomous systems to perform missions once achieved only by large, expensive ones. Roper stressed the department’s conception of the future battle network is one where humans will always be in the loop. Machines and the autonomous systems being developed by the DoD, such as the micro-drones, will empower humans to make better decisions faster.
In his 1995 novel The Diamond Age, science fiction author Neal Stephenson wrote about a similar swarm of devices tasked with surveillance and security - the dog pod grid:
Atlantis/Shanghai occupied the loftiest ninety percent of New Chusan's land area - an inner plateau about a mile above sea level, where the air was cooler and cleaner. Parts of it were marked off with a lovely wrought-iron fence, but the real border was defended by something called the dog pod grid - a swarm of quasi-independent aerostats...
These pods were programmed to hang in space in a hexagonal grid pattern about ten centimeters apart...
(Read more about Stephenson's dog pod grid)