Pentagon Reveals Their Autonomous Micro-Drone Program

The Department of Defense has announced that they have completed a successful micro-drone demonstration with a 103 Perdix drones.

The test, which appeared on Sunday’s CBS News program ’60 Minutes’, featured over a hundred Perdix micro-drones launched from three F/A Super Hornets. The Department of Defense said  the micro-drones displayed “advanced swarm behaviors such as collective decision-making, adaptive formation flying, and self-healing.”

Developed by researchers at MIT in 2013, Perdix drones have the capability of being dropped out of the sky at high speeds and withstanding cold temperatures. Not to mention, the micro-drones are relatively inexpensive.

Named after the Greek mythology story of the student saved by the God Athena who transformed him into a small bird, Perdix weighs only 290g and is less than a foot wide. The devices are essentially controlled by an operator whose job is to predict the behavior of the swarm of drones, without ever having to manage each and every Perdix drone.

The first Perdix drone tests were completed in 2014 after being dropped from F-16 flare containers at Edwards Air Force Base. Then in 2015, 90 Perdix missions were flown in Alaska. These missions included ground and maritime surveillance missions as well as swarms containing 20 drones at a time.

The Secretary Defense Ash Carter explained that “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.”

The Department of Defense’s Strategic Capabilities Office’s director William Roper asserted that because combat is constantly changing, micro-drones technology allows a large group of drones to move in the form of a “collective organism” sharing one brain.

Roper added that the microdrones are not led by a single leader and they can easily adapt to the environment.

“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,” Roper explained.

A previous Washington Post report revealed that the micro-drone project was part of a $20 million Pentagon program to reinvent the military drone program. The Pentagon points out in their report that the military plans on producing micro-drones at a groups of up to 1,000.

This news comes after the Department of Defense implemented a new organization called the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx). The DIUx has offices in both Silicon Valley and Boston. According to their website, DIUx is the link between those in the U.S. military and companies innovating new technology.