By itself, one isn’t all that impressive. But, bring enough of them together, and it’s certainly an impressive sight. Originally designed by researchers at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory, the Perdix drone (formally Project Perdix) was built for swarming operations and tasked with airborne environmental monitoring. The tiny 6.5-inch drone was impressive enough in its swarming capability that the DOD’s Special Capabilities Office took notice and adopted it for use in ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) operations.
As you can surmise, the Perdix underwent some modifications to make it more suitable for its new role, however, the overall design remains relatively unchanged. What makes the Perdix an attractive UAV is its tiny footprint. Oh, and there’s being deployed from aircraft en masse and the fact that it can be 3D printed relatively quickly, making it easy to mass-produce and swap-out replacement parts when damaged.
The Perdix drones is designed using a 3D printed Kevlar/composite body and spring-loaded, carbon-fiber wings that snap into place when deployed. The drone maintains flight using a custom pusher propeller mounted on the tail of the drone and is powered by an internal lithium-polymer rechargeable battery. This allows it to stay aloft for around 20-minutes per charge and sustain speeds of 20 to 40 knots (depending on conditions).
The Perdix operates in swarms, relying on a pre-programmed set of instructions to coordinate with one another, taking its instructions from a centralized system providing target data. The drones then take the data to synchronize and collaborate with each other and even adapt to the number of drones that are used during the mission.
There have been three recorded test from 2014-2016, air-dropping Perdix drones in different conditions, the latest of which saw 103 Perdix drones deployed from three F/A-18 Super Hornets over China Lake, California. The demonstration was captured on video and shared by the U.S. Navy.
Since the original design of the Perdix in 2013, the drone has undergone six revisions to both hardware and software and is set to a ‘Gen 7’ update later this year. As to what those updates are, we can only guess, but increased flight time and AI integration certainly wouldn’t be out of the question considering the drone acts autonomously in part to begin with. Imagine these with the capability to ‘think’ and adapt to mission changes on the fly. Couple that with stealth capabilities and it could go anywhere and grab images without being noticed.