Many people are wary of the potential applications of drones and the implications for violation of fundamental rights, and it seems this fear is well-founded. This week the Pentagon announced that it has tested drone technology capable of sophisticated swarming conduct. According to the Department of Defense, this conduct includes collective decision-making, adaptive formation flying, and self-healing.
The demonstration of the micro-drones was successfully undertaken in October 2016, although the Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO) has just released the information and an accompanying video (below). In the test, three F/A-18 Super Hornets released over 100 Perdix drones which then connected with each other to make group decisions and fly in formation.
Instead of being individually programmed, the Perdix drones are a collective organism that share a circulated brain for decision-making and adapting to each other. The swarm is given objectives and can decide how best to achieve them, without a leader.
The Perdix are designed to be small (with a wingspan of less than 30cm) and inexpensive. They could be used to fly lower, and offer vastly improved surveillance and reconnaissance abilities, than larger aircraft can manage. The drones would also be useful in overwhelming enemy defences with their numbers and speed, as well as being difficult to track.
Secretary of Defence Ash Carter says that the SCO plans to continue developing technology that it hopes will allow humans to make better decisions in less time.
“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,” said Carter.
While it seems like the stuff of science-fiction nightmares (or at least the precursor), it’s positive to note that this could reduce human casualties in conflict.
Have a look at the drones for yourself.