October 2, 2015
The military has found a way to make the dawn of tiny, adorable drones as alarming as possibleDefense Systems reports that U.S. Army tacticians were already worried about the rise of the hummingbird-sized quadcopter anyway, they’re working towards hundreds of these little buggers working in swarms. Forget bees: imagine your sky filled with tiny drones flying in sync.
The Targets Management Office has colluded with the concisely-named Program Executive Office for Simulation Training and Instrumentation to test “groups of quadcopters and octocopters” at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico and at Fort Bliss in Texas, reported Defense Systems. This slow-brewing military-themed science fiction scenario is part of the “Army Test and Evaluation Command program,” which Defense Systems reported is intended “to assess possible uses for and countermeasures against synchronized drones.”
An Army press release gives more details about the thinking behind the studies. The release noted that quadcopters are currently playthings for “hobbyists and photographers” and do not “represent a huge threat in their current state” because they can’t stay aloft for long and can’t carry any kind of substantial load.
Interest in performing swarm tests is based on how easy it is obtain any kind of drone system; they’re affordable and widely available. From the Army’s release:
Small military drones, custom designed for the military mission, and outfitted with the latest hardware can get quite expensive. The Tarantula Hawk Micro Air Vehicle, a VTOL capable military drone about the size of a large bucket, comes with a price tag in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, with hundreds of thousands more needed to train an operator. An off-the-shelf quadcopter, like the 3-D Robotics Iris series used in the test, can be bought for around $1,000, and requires almost no training to operate.
Engineers are basically snagging the affordable systems and seeing how much they can trick them out. And the end goal? “By coordinating dozens of drones or more into a single swarm, it’s theorized the tiny aircraft could overwhelm a defender, presenting far more targets then can be easily destroyed and allowing at least some weaponized drones to reach their target.”
Military technological innovation has often made its way into civilian use, and it’s easy to see how something like drone swarms would be of interest to news outlets as well as creeps with disposable income. With a future full of tiny swarming drones anywhere, the blackout curtains industry will likely explode. We’ll stay home and watch cool drone p.o.v. racing videos instead.