A recent episode of CBS News’ “60 Minutes” highlighted the U.S. Department of Defense’s successful test of one of the world’s largest micro-drone swarms at China Lake, Calif. The Department of Defense and the Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO) partnered with Naval Air Systems Command to launch 103 composites-intensive drones, known as Perdix, from three F/A-18 Super Hornets.
“I congratulate the Strategic Capabilities Office for this successful demonstration,” said Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, who 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.”
DoD said that during the tests, the Perdix micro-drones demonstrated “advanced swarm behaviors,” including 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.”
Perdix was first conceived by students at MIT around six years ago. The Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO) later took the drones and created a way for warplanes to use them. The SCO team began running trials with the Perdix craft back in 2014 before undergoing the full-scale testing.
As MIT explained back in March 2016, Perdix drones are 3-D printed using Kevlar and carbon fiber. Each drone comes with spring-loaded carbon fiber wings and a low-drag fiberglass fuselage. According to DoD specs, each drone weighs approximately one pound, has a range of about 20 minutes, and reach speeds between 40 and 60 knots.
SCO plans to partner with the Defense Industrial Unit‐Experimental (DIUx) to find companies capable of rapidly building 1,000 units of Perdix. SCO is also working on the “Gen 7” design, which will likely include more advanced autonomy.
To watch the full 60 Minutes piece, see the video below: