A team of Chinese scientists has managed to fly a drone swarm of ten drones through a dense bamboo forest. To this end, each drone was equipped with stereo cameras and an onboard computer for processing data and communicating with other drones. The team believes that there are many applications for swarm technology.
A video of the experiment shows how the drones explore the forest together after takeoff. Each drone ensures that no obstacles are hit. But despite the individual control movements, there is clearly mutual coordination, resulting in a collective flight.
The drone swarm was realized by scientists at Zhejiang University in China. In a paper published in the scientific journal Science Robotics, they refer to films like Star Wars, Prometheus, and Blade Runner 2049 as inspiration for their work.
“Here we are taking a first step towards such a future,” said lead researcher Xin Zhou.
Drone swarm inspired by birds
Nature was an important source of inspiration for the researchers.
“Our work is inspired by birds that fly smoothly in a free swarm through even very dense forests,” said Zhou. “The challenge is to weigh up conflicting requirements: on the one hand, the drones must be as small and light as possible, and on the other, they must have a lot of computing power to be able to plot safe trajectories.”
The palm-sized drones were built specifically for this purpose, with Intel RealSense depth cameras, altitude sensors, and an onboard computer based on NVIDIA technology. The flight controller is a PX4 Autopilot. The biggest challenge was the development of a smart algorithm for obstacle avoidance, flight efficiency, and coordination within the swarm.
Drone swarm applications
According to the scientists, there are many possible applications for swarm technology, ranging from mapping a difficult area to carrying out Search and Rescue missions. The advantage of using drones is that they do not depend on GPS for their positioning and navigation. This way, they could be sent into a collapsed building, for example, to look for victims after an earthquake or fire. It is also conceivable that the drones jointly perform a certain task, such as lifting and moving a relatively heavy object.
It is obvious that the drone swarms can also be used for military purposes, for example, by arming them and jointly carrying out an attack on a specific target.
The Pentagon, among others, is very interested in such possibilities. There is also interest in this drone technology in the Netherlands: for example, Delft Dynamics, Tective Robotics, TNO and Avalor AI are working on a military drone swarm on behalf of the Ministry of Defense.
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