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DOD Successfully Demonstrates Aerial Autonomous Drone Swarm

The Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO) and Naval Air Systems Command, successfully demonstrated one of the world’s largest micro-drone swarms at China Lake, California, Oct. 16, 2016, according to a DOD news release. A swarm of 103 autonomous Perdix drones was launched from three F/A-18 Super Hornets. The micro-drones demonstrated collective decision-making, adaptive formation flying, and self-healing.

“I congratulate the Strategic Capabilities Office for this successful demonstration,” said Secretary of Defense Ash Carter. Carter 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 Perdix drones, originally designed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) engineering students, were modified for military use by the scientists and engineers of MIT Lincoln Laboratory beginning in 2013, according to the release. The October test confirmed the reliability of the current sixth-generation design of the drone, which employed all-commercial-component design under potential deployment conditions. The drones endured speeds of Mach 0.6, temperatures down to minus 10 degrees Celsius, and large shocks during ejection from adapted fighter flare dispensers.

SCO is working with the military to transition Perdix drones into existing programs of record, and partnering with the Defense Industrial Unit-Experimental, or DIUx, to find companies capable of producing MIT Lincoln Laboratory’s Perdix design in batches of up to 1,000.