Fast and cheap, drones play an important role in the armed forces. They can locate enemies and effectively coordinate troop movements on the ground. Always controversial, they are also easily spotted and neutralized. The trick is to use not one big drone, but rather a swarm of hundreds of mini-drones.Swarms of #mini-drones are the latest example of new technologies using #biomimicry.Click To Tweet
Swarm Drones share their resources for decision-making and adaptive flying, just like a real locust swarm in nature.
Nature is its own engineer. Upon evolution it sketched its designs and polished them for billions of years, allowing living beings to develop adaptive and sustainable strategies.
Emulating nature is an ancient idea. Humans observe nature and subsequently seek to imitate animals and Earth’s processes for their own benefit.
In the fifteenth century, when Leonardo da Vinci designed his aircraft, the ornithopter, he was inspired by observation of bats, birds, and insects. Going back 5,500 years, the invention of the wheel was inspired by the dung beetles, as historians suggest.
Today, biomimicry has become a transdisciplinary science in its own right. Many industrialized products are partly manufactured through the deep study of materials found in nature. In addition to the industrial field, there are other applications of biomimicry that raise many eyebrows. The most intriguing of which may involve the military.
The Hive-mind of a Robotic Locust Swarm
As an alternative to traditional combat drones, the US Navy is considering smaller models capable of coordinating their actions as does a locust swarm.
From this idea, the LOCUST project was formed. Also known as the Low-Cost UAV Swarming Technology, this program, initiated by the ONR (Office of Naval Research), consists of using a swarm of autonomous drones.
In collaboration with Georgia Tech Research Institute, they designed small and expendable drones that pull their strength from their ability to overwhelm the opponent’s defenses by their numbers and synchronicity.
The drones are so small that they can be deployed from any platform: ships, aircraft, land vehicles and even other military drones. UAVs reduce the risk to personnel, allowing military men to concentrate on more complex tasks. They also reduce costs. Hundreds of small autonomous drones are much cheaper than a single traditional tactical aircraft.
The US Navy’s LOCUST Drones come at a time where UAV technology is being developed by every advanced military entity on the planet.
Last October, as part of a military exercise, the US Department of Defense launched a swarm of 103 micro-UAVs from three F/A-18s. What characterized these drones is that they were hive-mind controlled and function as a collective organism.
These “Perdix” drones were developed by MIT engineering students and, in 2013, were modified by MIT Lincoln Laboratory for military use.
“Because every Perdix communicates and collaborates with every other Perdix,” said William Roper, SCO Director, “the swarm has no leader and can gracefully adapt to drones entering or exiting the team.”
Biomimicry as the Next Phase
These drones are yet another example of biomimicry and how more and more next-gen technological advances are actually inspired by very basic principles and mechanisms seen in nature. I.e. the swarm thinks as a unit.
Today, any aircraft can be destroyed by a single projectile. However, in a swarm of aircraft, missile attacks could be mitigated with minimal loss.
Case in point:
And the counterattack:
Most defensive and offensive military infrastructure is centered around single missile attacks. Therefore, next-gen warfare takes on a more defensive nature by exploiting the conventional aspects of other offensive systems.
But will the drone LOCUST take flight? Project manager of LOCUST, Lee Mastroianni, says, “The key is a modular UAV that can easily accept different payloads depending on which missions are desired and can be produced cheaply enough that they are one-way.”
Could a swarm handle a nuke?