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Air Platforms

US demos 'one of the world's largest' micro-UAV swarms

10 January 2017

The US Department of Defense (DOD) air-dropped a swarm of micro-unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) during trials conducted in late 2016 and announced on 9 January.

Two of the three Hornets involved in the trial about to drop 103 Perdix micro-UAVs over China Lake, California, in October 2016. (DVIDS)Two of the three Hornets involved in the trial about to drop 103 Perdix micro-UAVs over China Lake, California, in October 2016. (DVIDS)

During the trials three Boeing F/A-18 Hornet combat aircraft dropped 103 Perdix micro-UAVs over China Lake, California, in October 2016. According to the DOD, "the [micro-UAVs] demonstrated advanced swarm behaviours such as collective decision-making, adaptive formation flying, and self-healing."

As noted by the DOD, this test demonstrated one of the world's largest micro-UAV swarms to date, and was "one of the most significant" tests of autonomous systems currently under development by the department's Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO).

"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," the SCO Director William Roper was quoted as saying. "Because every Perdix communicates and collaborates with every other Perdix, the swarm has no leader and can gracefully adapt to [UAVs] entering or exiting the team," he added.

Designed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) , the Perdix UAV has from 2013 been modified for military use by the scientists and engineers of the MIT Lincoln Laboratory. The SCO is working with the military services to transition Perdix into existing programmes of record, and is also partnering with the Defense Industrial Unit-Experimental (DIUx) organisation to find companies capable of accurately replicating the design with the goal of producing batches of 1,000 Perdix UAVs at a time.

Specifications released by the SCO give the propeller-driven Perdix a body length of 16.5 cm, a wingspan of 30 cm, a weight of 290 g, an endurance of more than 20 minutes, and an air speed of 40 to 60 kt.

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