As drone flight technology continues to advance at an incredibly rapid clip, the ways in which people make use of these revolutionary devices never ceases to amaze. From Disney’s new Millennium Falcon and X-Wing personal drones to one that turns into a submarine, you’d think the well of creative drone ideas would be nearly dry. As always, this isn’t nearly the case as a team of researchers from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California just ratcheted up the drone game to fifty. Literally.
Just this past week, the aforementioned team of researchers not only launched an astounding fifty drones into the air, but controlled all of them with just a single operator. The event netted the team a world record for the largest drone swarm to launch into the sky, as well as the biggest swarm of drones flown by just one person. Assembled primarily using hobby parts, these custom-made drone aircrafts —which the team dubs “The Zephyr” — cost around just $2,000 to make, and are a bit bigger than your standard winged drone.
During the assembly process, the team decided to outfit the drones with a high-powered WiFi communication system, instead of the standard comm system typically seen in modern drones. WiFi allows the crafts to more accurately send signals to one another without overlapping or inundating each other with messages. Communicating in this way allowed the researchers to set up a unique form of operation which told the drones to simply swarm in a similar way as a designated leader. This enabled the crafts to be controlled by just one person, rather than require individual direction.
“Most of the swarming operations are things like ‘follow-me’ mode, where one or more UAVs follow a leader around the sky,” says project lead Kevin Jones. “The swarm behavior looks quite random as the aircraft move around the sky trying to optimally search an area in the shortest amount of time.”
A series of pre-flight safety checks permitted the team to launch a new drone roughly every 30 seconds. Furthermore, each drone wasn’t simply hand launched (due to their relatively large size) meaning the researchers had to build a chain driven launcher capable of firing off each craft in rapid succession. The team did say they hope to cut the launch time down to 10 seconds, though they also pointed out there’s no reason for the entire swarm to take flight all at once.
In the future, this kind of drone technology could potentially be deployed for search-and-rescue operations, and for just generally scaring the hell out of anyone who thinks the government is spying on them.