WASHINGTON: The US department of Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO) has successfully tested one of the world's largest micro-drone swarms, which will give the United States an edge over its adversaries.
Named Perdex, one of the most significant autonomous systems, micro-drones are capable of low altitude Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance and other missions, according to a statement on Pentagon's official website.
In the test conducted in October 2016 in California State and documented in a News program this week, some 103 Perdix drones were launched from three F/A-18 Super Hornets. The micro-drones demonstrated advanced swarm behaviors such as collective decision-making, adaptive formation flying, and self-healing.
"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. Machines and the autonomous systems being developed by Pentagon will empower humans to make better decisions faster.
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. Drawing inspiration from the commercial smartphone industry, Perdix software and hardware has been continually updated in successive design generations.
Now in its sixth generation, October's test confirmed the reliability of the current all-commercial-component design under potential deployment conditions "speeds of Mach 0.6, temperatures of minus 10 degrees Celsius, and large shocks" encountered during ejection from fighter flare dispensers.
Predix can be air-, sea-, or ground-launched and operate in both small and large swarms to perform their missions. Over 670 micro-drones have been flown to date. In September 2014, Perdix was first air dropped from F-16. In September 2015, 90 Perdix missions were flown during US Pacific Command's exercise in Alaska.
The micro-drones have 2.6 inches long propellers, 6.5 inches body, 11.8 inches wing span, 290 grams in weight and can fly at 40-60 knots with 20 minutes endurance.
As SCO works transition to the Services, it is also partnering with the Defense Industrial Unit-Experimental (DIUx) to find companies capable of rapidly building 1,000 units this year. SCO is also working on the "Gen 7" design, which will likely include more advanced autonomy.