Pentagon's future weapon: Swarms of micro-drones

The test of the world's largest micro-drone swarm in California last October included 103 Perdix micro-drones, like the one above. Military strategists have high hopes for drone swarms that would be cheap to produce and be able to overwhelm opponents
The test of the world's largest micro-drone swarm in California last October included 103 Perdix micro-drones, like the one above. Military strategists have high hopes for drone swarms that would be cheap to produce and be able to overwhelm opponents' defences with their great numbers.PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

WASHINGTON • The Pentagon may soon be unleashing a 21st-century version of locusts on its adversaries after officials said it had successfully tested a swarm of 103 micro- drones.

The important step in the development of new autonomous weapon systems was made possible by improvements in artificial intelligence, holding open the possibility that groups of small robots could act together under human direction.

Military strategists have high hopes for such drone swarms that would be cheap to produce and be able to overwhelm opponents' defences with their great numbers.

The test of the world's largest micro-drone swarm in California in October last year included 103 Perdix micro-drones, measuring around 16cm, launched from three F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jets, the Pentagon said in a statement.

"The micro-drones demonstrated advanced swarm behaviour such as collective decision-making, adaptive formation flying and self-healing," it said.

"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," said Dr William Roper, director of the Pentagon's Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO). "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."

MIMICKING NATURE

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.

DR WILLIAM ROPER, director of the Pentagon's Strategic Capabilities Office, on the micro-drones.

Defence Secretary Ash Carter - a technophile and former Harvard professor - created the SCO when he was deputy defence secretary in 2012. The department is tasked with accelerating the integration of technological innovations into United States weaponry. It particularly strives to marry already existing commercial technology - in this case, micro- drones and artificial intelligence software - in the design of new weapons.

Originally created by engineering students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2013 and continuously improved since, Perdix drones draw "inspiration from the commercial smartphone industry", the Pentagon said.

AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 11, 2017, with the headline 'Pentagon's future weapon: Swarms of micro-drones'. Print Edition | Subscribe