Want to control a swarm of drones? There’s an app for that

Using a smartphone to control a drone is nothing new. But using a smartphone to control a fleet of miniature helicopter drones? That’s pretty impressive.

That’s exactly what Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), a leading Israel-based defense and commercial sector aerospace and aviation company, has developed with its new MultiFlyer system. Capable of allowing one person to control multiple drones as a fleet, while also taking control of individual flyers where necessary, the technology could be useful for a slew of scenarios — from security and law enforcement to first responder duties in a disaster zone.

The advantage to operating a fleet of drones, rather than a single vehicle, comes down to speed. For obvious reasons, multiple drones working together can carry out tasks in less time than making one drone do all the work. In time-critical situations, that could literally make the difference between life and death. In less urgent situations, such as monitoring farms or inspecting buildings, it could simply allow the drones to overcome limitations like battery life constraints by packing more work into less individual flying time.

According to New Scientist, the system allows for new drones to be “hot-swapped” while in flight. Staggering the intervals at which new drones are added into a fleet of drones in flight means that a continuous drone presence could be established, while allowing those that are out of fuel to drop out and recharge before launching again. The publication says that IAI is currently selling its MultiFlyer technology for nonmilitary applications, but declined to comment on its possible defense usage. However, because MultiFlyer uses an optical navigation system not reliant on GPS, it could potentially be useful in possible military situations in which jamming is a potential hazard.

“IAI is a leader of trailblazing technologies with UAV (unmanned aerial vehicles) experience spanning 50 years, and we are constantly seeking additional areas in which we can invest our R&D capabilities,” Moshe Levy, IAI executive vice president and manager of the Military Aircraft Division, said in a statement. “MultiFlyer is a significant milestone in this respect, and we anticipate more developments in this field.”

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