Army researchers testing swarms of APM-powered drones

From Defense Systems:

The Army is experimenting with using swarms of small, inexpensive drones in battlefield missions—as much as anything because of the potential threat they could pose to U.S. forces.

Members of the Targets Management Office with Program Executive Office for Simulation Training and Instrumentation are using groups of quadcopters and octocopters to see what they’re capable of. The flights, part of an Army Test and Evaluation Command program to assess possible uses for and countermeasures against synchronized drones, are taking place at the ongoing Network Integration Evaluation exercises at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., and Fort Bliss, Texas.

"ATEC is our customer, they tasked us to come out and look at swarming, the variations and the payloads we can apply to this," James Story, an engineer with the Targets Management Office, said in a release. "We saw this as a threat that wasn't being addressed and ATEC agreed."

These types of drones aren’t much of a concern at the moment, because of their small size, limited payloads, short flight times and the fact that swarming is pretty rare. And they’re not exactly armored. But the technology is improving, and their relatively low cost makes them more easily available to adversaries. "Right now there's hardly anyone doing swarms, most people are flying one, maybe two, but any time you can get more than one or two in the air at the same time, and control them by waypoint with one laptop, that's important," Story said. "You're controlling all five of them, and all five of them are a threat."

The Army points out that even small military drones, like the Tarantula Hawk micro air vehicle, used for surveillance, IED defeat and target acquisition, costs hundreds of thousands of dollars and requires extensive training to operate. A commercial quadcopter like the 3D Robotics Iris series being used in the tests, on the other hand, goes for about $1,000 and can be flown by anyone pretty much out of the box.

Views: 1713

Comment by Rob Dunbar on October 1, 2015 at 8:43pm

No wonder 3DR was out of stock of Iris+ a while back.

Comment by earthpatrol on October 2, 2015 at 12:27am

@chris_anderson with all due respect, this post seems to violate the spirit of this communities commitment to not post military related uses of UAVs. If indeed that is still a policy. I really enjoy seeing DIY related civilian posts and have appreciated the community that we have built around it. I've seen many a member chastised for posting similar material and it only seems fair that we keep those guidelines consistent for all members. Respectfully stating my view based on experience in this community.

Comment by Roger McMaster on October 2, 2015 at 8:48am

totally agree earthpatrol.

  1. No discussion of military or weaponized applications of UAVs. This site is just about amateur and civilian use.

Comment by Hugues on October 2, 2015 at 10:11am

+1 I think such a post does not serve our community to give it a positive image with useful and peaceful applications. We already have a hard time enough without that to defend the usefulness and safety of uav applications.

Comment by Hugues on October 2, 2015 at 10:13am

And this will fuel uav adversaries with a bit more paranoia who will now expect swarms of military drones to attack or spy on civilians...

Comment by Cliff-E on October 2, 2015 at 1:18pm

"Right now there's hardly anyone doing swarms"


BTW, it's hard to control a swarm of drones from 1 operator. Just the preflight would hurt (try pluging in 20 lipos by yourself!) & don't ask about compass cal when you've never flown in the target location before. There's no such thing as VLOS, the safety system/logic needs to be robust: you're not a pilot, but along for the ride...

Comment by lot on October 3, 2015 at 5:07am


Comment by Scott W on October 3, 2015 at 7:32am

I'm sorry, but I think it's funny people still want to push the military drone issue under the rug.. 
There is no stopping it!  It is reality.   If people want change, don't cower in the dark in fear.  stand up and fight for a smaller military budget.  Fight for sane politicians.  VOTE! 

3D Robotics
Comment by Chris Anderson on October 3, 2015 at 7:45am

@earthpatrol, @hughes: you're right, and I probably should have added a note of explanation or apology for bending the rules. We do generally make an exception for the academic and research sides of the military, such as DARPA and Naval Postgraduate School, but this one is a bit blurry.

I just thought it was cool that they had chosen an open source consumer drone for their research. 

Comment by Nick Turner on October 3, 2015 at 11:29am

I think Chris has a good point to share this. This community should take pride in how far the open-source side has come. When a large well funded branch of the government is using open-source platforms to advance UAV technology, it's a nod to how sophisticated the DIY tech has come. The military no longer views APM as a hobbyist only project and recognizes that swarms are really about low-cost tech that can scale. I'm getting into swarms to study active volcanoes and as a grad student I would not be able to fund this type of research without the low cost open-source platforms like APM.


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