Pentagon successfully tests micro-drone swarm

January 10, 2017
US Defense Secretary Ash Carter, a technophile and former Harvard professor, created the Strategic Capabilities Office when he was deputy defense secretary in 2012

The Pentagon may soon be unleashing a 21st-century version of locusts on its adversaries after officials on Monday 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 able to overwhelm opponents' defenses with their great numbers.

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

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

"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 William Roper, director of the Pentagon's 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."

Defense Secretary Ash Carter—a technophile and former Harvard professor—created the SCO when he was deputy defense secretary in 2012.

The department is tasked with accelerating the integration of technological innovations into the US weaponry.

It particularly strives to marry already existing commercial technology—in this case micro-drones and 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.

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Snookie
4 / 5 (4) Jan 10, 2017
I'll bet about 100 of these little beasties would drive a radar system useless. I would think they would also irritate the ISIS soldiers to no end - especially if they looked like little, pink pigs.
Snookie
1 / 5 (1) Jan 10, 2017
I wonder if they were made completely with plastic parts, would they be invisible to radar?
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (2) Jan 10, 2017
ISIS soldiers to no end - especially if they looked like little, pink pigs.

It's a cheap system. So expect ISIS (and every other crazy out there) to copy and deploy these on their own. The parts for this are practically off-the-shelf.

It's high time such robots were forbidden by international convention.
whisperin_pines
1 / 5 (1) Jan 10, 2017
I wonder if they were made completely with plastic parts, would they be invisible to radar?

Radar relies on the ability to read reflected radio waves from an object. I suppose a type of plastic could be, or possibly already has been, developed to absorb those waves, making them less visible to radar.
whisperin_pines
1 / 5 (1) Jan 10, 2017
ISIS soldiers to no end - especially if they looked like little, pink pigs.

It's a cheap system. So expect ISIS (and every other crazy out there) to copy and deploy these on their own. The parts for this are practically off-the-shelf.

It's high time such robots were forbidden by international convention.

The enemy would have to be able to understand the AI aspect, be able to replicate and test it successfully, and have the necessary infrastructure to mass produce them for deployment. Enemy nation states would be more of a worry.
davejg77
Jan 10, 2017
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
antigoracle
Jan 10, 2017
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
ald9899
1 / 5 (1) Jan 11, 2017
If the software is encrypted, copying it and installing on copycat drone only creates a drone they can't use, but we can.

Micro and nano drones can be used to plug large bore weapons turning a Russian tank column into defenseless column of sitting ducks. They can destroy turbine driven high performance enemy aircraft by flying into turbines. They can alter the path of ICBM's if they attack en-mass.

They should not be banned for defensive purposes.

We need to develop 21st century aircraft that doesn't rely on turbines.
ald9899
1 / 5 (1) Jan 11, 2017
If the drones are manufactured from clear plastics they will be extremely hard to see.
antialias_physorg
3 / 5 (2) Jan 11, 2017
The enemy would have to be able to understand the AI aspect

This isn't rocket science. You can get any number of papers that describe how this works off the net (as well as the code for it). Just because they're crazy doesn't mean they're stupid or can't write code. Crazy people are highly motivated.

necessary infrastructure to mass produce them for deployment.

As I said: you don't need any infrastructure at all. You can buy all you need from Amazon.

antialias_physorg
1 / 5 (1) Jan 11, 2017
If the software is encrypted, copying it and installing on copycat drone only creates a drone they can't use, but we can.

That's not how encryption works. Even encrypted software needs to run. And if you have access to a processor where it's running on then you can always copy the instruction set in clear.
(However, swarm software is so easy to write there's no point in even bothering to reverse engineer it. You can download it directly from GitHub)
They can destroy turbine driven high performance enemy aircraft by flying into turbines.

No. They don't fly high (nor nearly fast) enough.

They should not be banned for defensive purposes.

None of what you just mentioned are *defensive* purposes.

If the drones are manufactured from clear plastics they will be extremely hard to see.

Drones still have motors/electronics. And they are quite noisy (small drones need high RPM).
docdave88
3 / 5 (2) Jan 11, 2017
hmmmmmmmmmmmmm

Sounds like the plot for a Michael Chricton or Stephen King novel.
Blakut
3 / 5 (2) Jan 11, 2017
What if you make a swarm of wheeled drones that lie in wait in bushes and then converge on enemy vehicles and detonate?
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (2) Jan 11, 2017
It's a cheap system. So expect ISIS (and every other crazy out there) to copy and deploy these on their own. The parts for this are practically off-the-shelf.

It's high time such robots were forbidden by international convention.
So drone swarms can be deployed by criminal rogue states but we should ban them. So then only criminal rogue states will have them, correct?

Aa and others still fail to comprehend the term inevitability. This is also BTW why they think gun control makes sense.

If a technology is inevitable then you must be the first to develop and master it.
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Jan 11, 2017
What if you make a swarm of wheeled drones that lie in wait in bushes and then converge on enemy vehicles and detonate?

Mines are cheaper. Roadside explosives aren't exactly unheard of, either.

Sounds like the plot for a Michael Chricton or Stephen King novel.

Try William Gibson's latest novel ("The Peripheral")
Guy_Underbridge
1 / 5 (2) Jan 11, 2017
If the drones are manufactured from clear plastics they will be extremely hard to see.

even if they were florescent orange with flashing lights, they're 100+ micro-drones measuring around six inches (16 centimeters) launched from fighter jets... what are you going to do, shoot them? dodge them?
ald9899
1 / 5 (1) Jan 11, 2017
"That's not how encryption works..."

Properly encrypted software knows its environment, keys etc. not hard to protect. Key protected software can self modify, and you won't know it.

"No. They don't fly high (nor nearly fast) enough. "
There's always improvements. It's a lay in wait device not chase.

Stopping enemy aircraft from chasing you might be considered defensive, eg. smart chaff. Plugging large bore weapons to stop them from firing would I think be considered defensive.

Regarding clear plastic. Motors and wires are small compared to the rest of the craft. Not trying to be invisible, just harder to detect.

snoosebaum
Jan 11, 2017
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Guy_Underbridge
3 / 5 (2) Jan 11, 2017
wait till their batteries die
Maybe they've repurposed Samsung batteries
ald9899
1 / 5 (2) Jan 11, 2017
Dead batteries!!! OMG. They're not going to sit for months alone. They'll be in or near mother carriers to charge or recharge.... no imagination!!! I want to stop or make wars difficult. This is technology that can help do that but you can't see your way past fear. All you people seem to want is status quo, unbelievable!!!
ald9899
1 / 5 (2) Jan 11, 2017
If I was living in an Eastern European country or Sweden I'd be working on this as hard as possible to confront Russian tanks on my border...
MRBlizzard
1 / 5 (2) Jan 11, 2017
Why don't we put 50,000 in Mosul RIGHT NOW and save some lives. (And shorten the time to conduct Urban Warfare.
Da Schneib
not rated yet Jan 11, 2017
The point of this is that the drones are general purpose. Once you make general purpose drone swarms you can figure out how to program them for specific purposes; and once you can deploy them from conventional platforms, you've enhanced your battlefield presence by many times. They're difficult to detect, difficult to counter, cheap, and relatively easy to program and equip.

Plugging someone's guns or rocket launchers is a really great idea. This is smart cluster bombs without the civilian risk factor.
BackBurner
not rated yet Jan 12, 2017

Sounds like the plot for a Michael Chricton or Stephen King novel.


It is the plot of a Michael Crichton novel. It's called "Prey". Published in 2002 I think.
BackBurner
not rated yet Jan 12, 2017
It's interesting but I don't see how it's very useful for a military? Maybe if they were flesh eating locusts? I can't see plugging gun barrels being very effective, not more than once anyway.
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Jan 12, 2017
what are you going to do, shoot them?

EMP them. Net them. Deploy counter drones. Screw with their visual recognition (i.e. by putting up signs printed with stuff akin to google's deep dream outputs). If you can manage to insert one in the swarm you could potentially turn the entire swarm upon itself or on their own handlers.
I'm sure there are any number of ways to nullify swarm bots (just as there are with any other weapon system).

Stopping enemy aircraft from chasing you might be considered defensive,

My point is that in that case you can come up with ANY use and call it 'defensive'. So it becomes a meaningless qualifier. Heck, people have called entire invasion wars (from Hitler attacking Poland to Russia attacking Georgia to the US attacking Iraq, Afghanistan or Vietanam) 'defensive'.

As for clear plastic: The color makes no difference with regards to radar or thermal imaging. And if you've been near a drone: they aren't silent.
TheGhostofOtto1923
not rated yet Jan 12, 2017
Mines are cheaper. Roadside explosives aren't exactly unheard of, either
It's very disconcerting to read comments about military tactics and hardware from someone who categorically denies the need for either. As in 'no need for defense until the enemy crosses your border'.
The point of this is that the drones are general purpose. Once you make general purpose drone swarms
?? This is like saying that airplanes are general purpose. Specialized drones are already being used for surveillance, ground attack, air engagement, etc.

Swarm drones can be designed to overwhelm defenses or deliver ordinance similar to cluster munitions as you say. Terrorists can use them to bring down planes similar to bird strikes, deny access similar to barrage balloons, or to deliver dirty bombs.
My point is that in that case you can come up with ANY use and call it 'defensive'
Indeed. 'Angriff ist die beste Verteidigung.'

Some german said this.
TheGhostofOtto1923
not rated yet Jan 12, 2017
Heck, people have called entire invasion wars (from Hitler attacking Poland to Russia attacking Georgia to the US attacking Iraq, Afghanistan or Vietanam) 'defensive'
For the record Germany and Russia attacked Poland simultaneously by agreement and divided it accordingly. Russians BTW immediately slaughtered 15k Polish officers.

And the US was asked to intervene in Vietnam to counter communist insurgency, a condition which germany faced with the Rot Front.
TheGhostofOtto1923
not rated yet Jan 12, 2017
Bavaria was for a few weeks a communist free state until elements of the army and the freicorps entered munich and defeated them with much bloodshed.
https://en.wikipe...Republic

Germans had no one but themselves to save their country, unlike Vietnam.

Seriously, do you know any of this?
TheGhostofOtto1923
not rated yet Jan 12, 2017
EMP them
'A drone swarm is approaching! Quick! Deploy the EMP cannon!' Haha
They don't fly high (nor nearly fast) enough. "
There's always improvements. It's a lay in wait device not chase
aa has not seen the movie 'sully'.
tommywitcomb
not rated yet Jan 12, 2017
Why 103?
Feels like a random number...
Uncle Ira
3 / 5 (2) Jan 12, 2017
Why 103?
Feels like a random number...
Maybe that is all that would fit in the box.

I'm just fooling around, eh? I am just guessing, but it might have been the minimum number that would fill the "proof of concept" requirements. That is usually how they do the engineering research on new stuffs,,,,, keep him as simple as you can to get the job done.
ald9899
not rated yet Jan 13, 2017
The effectiveness of EMP pulses is proportional to the size of the targets wiring and metal. Really small short wires In a plastic or nonmetallic micro or nano drone probably won't be affected all that much by EMP. That aside, wouldn't be hard to shield.
ald9899
not rated yet Jan 13, 2017
The notion that all swarms of drones are operating with the same parameters is not very imaginative. Some with IR, some Carbon monixide detectors, some Pattern Recognition, some laser targeted. Some micro, some nano. One of the reasons U.S. won WWII was numbers. Sherman tanks no match for Tiger II one on one, but by out numbering they could outflank. This is industrial numbers, hundred of thousands to millions mass produced, and I don't mean radio shack toys. Trying to attack a swarm with swarm is really difficult, detection sensitivity. Birds on birds would be hard, mosquito on mosquito probably impossible. Speed of processors, sensors, mechanical response time, etc...

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