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The Military

Researchers Fly 50 Autonomous Planes Simultaneously 39

New submitter MagicRuB writes: Researchers at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA recently flew fifty small autonomous planes together in what they claim is a "record-breaking drone swarm". These aircraft were built from lightweight foam wings with hobby-grade components, and were equipped with an autopilot running firmware based on the open-source Ardupilot project as well as a companion computer running custom autonomy software built on top of ROS and an 802.11n wireless device to communicate with other planes and ground stations. The researchers are using this swarm as a platform for advancing drone technology, and hope to see results implemented in agriculture, search and rescue, and defense applications.
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Researchers Fly 50 Autonomous Planes Simultaneously

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  • >The researchers are using this swarm as a platform for advancing drone technology, and hope to see results implemented defense applications.

    "Swarms" are not needed in either Agriculture or Search and Rescue.

    • Re:FTFY (Score:4, Insightful)

      by JMJimmy ( 2036122 ) on Thursday September 17, 2015 @03:52PM (#50543819)

      But they are needed for Skynet!

    • No, but the technology used to make a "swarm" work is required if you want drones to operate alongside regular aircraft - ex, Search and Rescue. Remember the fires in California where the water bombers had to turn away because drones were taking photos of the fires? It was not due to a lack of airspace - it was due to the inability to guarantee that the drones would not impact the water bomber. "Swarm" technology could provide that guarantee.
      • by s.petry ( 762400 )

        No, the swarm technology would not help with the CA fires or anything else you wish to point to outside of military application. What you may be intending is something similar to a person claiming that swarms will protect agriculture by shooting bugs with tiny lasers. Which makes for a science fiction plot, but has little to do with reality or even the near future.

        When every single aircraft is controlled centrally we can talk, but until then it's fantasy.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          No, what the GP is suggesting is that the implied ability to fly in close formation without collision would mean a future drone, so enabled, would be less likely to hit a regular aircraft and so drones could be used alongside regular aircraft and a group could be brought to the area as a swarm.

          Drones could be deployed to provide additional information, such as temperature sensing over a wide area to help direct firefighting efforts.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Why not?

      People may still hold onto the idea of the slow-paced farm life, but agriculture is very time sensitive. You can't just set and forget your plants until harvest. It takes time to review them and having a fleet of robots to turn a morning's work into an hour task (or even do the work continuously) would be a huge boon.

      I hope it's obvious how search and rescue would benefit from more parallelization.

    • I see a run on boxes of 12ga shells.

    • "Swarms" are not needed in either Agriculture or Search and Rescue.

      The Navy is not involved in agriculture, and S&R is not their primary mission. Drone swarms have military applications. They can be used to overwhelm an enemy's air defenses. Coordinated attacks by multiple drones can likely defeat manned air superiority fighters in the near future. The F35 will be obsolete before it is even fully deployed.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    If you're going to claim a record of 50 drones swarming. you get a fucking video of it. I saw like 3.

  • they needed: someone to advise them about unfriendly terminology.
  • Did the researchers "fly" 50 autonomous planes, or did they just stand by while the planes flew themselves? If the researchers did "fly" the planes, why are the planes called autonomous?
    • Re:Fly or stand by? (Score:5, Informative)

      by fhage ( 596871 ) on Thursday September 17, 2015 @06:00PM (#50544763)
      Find more details here [] The planes used a Linux based autopilot to control the aircraft which had waypoints sent to it via onboard Odroid SBCs. Primary communication to and from the planes used UDP packets sent through USB WiFi adaptors hung off the Odroids

      2 people "operated" the swarm, one commanding, the other monitoring. Planes got their swarm "slot" assignments at launch and tried to maintain position relative to a lead aircraft once they had reached their slot altitude. It's an interesting read. A quick estimate suggests they put around $1k in hardware into each plane. They describe guiding planes manually via spotter pilots using a secondary 900MHz spread spectrum radio link when anything went wrong.

      All planes were programmed with the same landing point, with the assumption that GPS and barometer inaccuracy would provide sufficient spread on landing. But with nearly 50 planes on the runway, on-deck collisions were unavoidable. Some of the video captured by GoPro cameras mounted to the nose of each plane show skidding into other planes, or coming down directly on top of other planes on the ground. Lesson learned for next time: add a bit more variation to the landing coordinates.

  • If the researchers fly 50 planes then they are not autonomous. Better to say 50 autonomous planes fly while researchers look on.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      If you interpret "autonomous" as equivalent to "decided by themselves to go for a little flight" then you are correct. Otherwise you are making a dumb point.

  • First posted about on the 3rd... []
  • It is a military organization. The project is interesting, but I think any use of robots and AI for military purposes should be banned by a global UN treaty.

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