VIDEO: Defense Department Tests Spooky Autonomous Drone Swarm

The Defense Department has released video of a test conducted at China Lake back in October. A swarm of more than a hundred “Perdix” drones were dropped from F/A18 Super Hornets in flight and were put through a series of exercises.

There have been some impressive videos online showing intricately synchronized movements by groups of aerial drones but the Perdix drones actually share one “brain.”

“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 William Roper, director of the Strategic Capabilities Office.

“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.”

Certainly there are a lot of applications for technology like this in everything from military reconnaissance to cartography. Autonomous aerial vehicles have been proposed for exploring Mars. A Mars probe consisting of a huge swarm of drones might be a more efficient way of gathering data.

In the video, the individual drones are barely visible as they drop out of the F/A18, but the radar display showing their motions through the various tests is pretty impressive. What is most striking about the video is the footage shot from the ground near the end when the swarm is orbiting around a fixed point. The combined whine of their engines is a sound from a horror movie. If the drones are used militarily it’s easy to imagine that sound being terrifying to a an enemy on the battlefield. Let’s hope it’s technology that the government doesn’t use against Americans at home.