The DOD is testing a swarm of autonomous, 3-D printed drones

The drones are called "Perdix" and were originally designed by engineering students at MIT.

F/A-18 Hornet
Credit: Department of Defense

The Department of Defense is testing low-cost, autonomous, micro-drones for low-altitude intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions.

The drones, dubbed Perdix, operate as a swarm and are not individually pre-programmed. Instead, they act as a collective organism with one distributed brain for decision-making, the DOD said in a statement on Monday.

“Because every Perdix communicates and collaborates with every other Perdix, the swarm has no leader and can gracefully adapt to drones entering or exiting the team,” says William Roper, director of the Strategic Capabilities Office of the DOD.

The drones are meant to be controlled in much the same manner as a coach would guide a sports team. The operator orders a broad objective, and the drones communally decide how best to execute the plan.

The latest test, initially documented on "60 Minutes," took place at China Lake, California in October. 103 of the mini remote-controlled vehicles were launched from three F/A-18 Super Hornets.  

Prior tests have also taken place in Alaska and Edwards Air Force Base in southern California. 

The DOD says Perdix is currently in its sixth generation, with a seventh generation model featuring more advanced autonomy in the works.

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