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Boeing recently sent two unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs or drones) on a mission using swarm technology. Although testing drones isn’t new, the fact that the two drones were two different types of aircraft is.Popular Science has more about what’s called the “swarm” concept:
This project is unique because it integrates two disparate types of aircraft, which is likely to be necessary if drone swarms are ever called up for duty.
In a disaster area or war zone, if drones are present at all, odds are pretty good that they won’t all be exactly the same, or they at least won’t have the same hardware. Swarms of these unrelated drones would need some common communications system in order to work together. Ideally, drone swarms could improve response times, by letting drones work out the most efficient routes and sorties amongst themselves. [John’s Hopkins University’s] swarming technology is designed to do just that — and reduce human pilot requirements.
According to a release by Boeing, two ScanEagles manufactured by Boeing subsidiary Insitu and one Procerus Unicorn from The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory were sent on a reconnaissance mission above Oregon where they communicated using Mobile Ad Hoc Network and swarm technology developed by Johns Hopkins:
Swarm technology is similar to how insects communicate and perform tasks as an intelligent group. The UAVs worked together to search the test area through self-generating waypoints and terrain mapping, while simultaneously sending information to teams on the ground. A broader demonstration is planned for the end of September.
“This is a milestone in UAV flight,” said Gabriel Santander, Boeing Advanced Autonomous Networks program director and team leader. “The test team proved that these unmanned aircraft can collect and use data while communicating with each other to support a unified mission. This swarm technology may one day be used for search-and-rescue missions or identifying enemy threats ahead of ground patrols.”
Through three UAVs may not quite constitute a “swarm,” Gizmodo points out that the technology for a successful swarm is getting there:
These independent drones could be incredibly useful for ground troops, but obviously the potential of this technology is not going to stop there. It’s not hard or crazy to imagine swarms of small, inexpensive, mass produced combat drones, perhaps with reactive skins and embedded warheads.
These warbirds would be given enemy signatures and, perhaps aided by other reconnaissance drones, they would be capable of taking down enemy planes, attack armoured ground forces or destroy whatever hostile target they acquire.
According to Popular Science, Boeing has more tests planned for September.