What is swarm technology in drones?

Drones are certainly a very fascinating technology and its applications are seen today in various fields be it adventure sports, surveillance or food delivery. The ever evolving technology has today made it possible to operate a large mass of hundreds of drones up in the air without having to worry about collisions and even fly them in perfect coordination and collaborate in any of the operations that they are involved in. Lets dive deeper into what this swarm technology is and how it is useful in today’s world. 

The Swarm tech: Drones or bees?

Multiple UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) can coordinate their actions and work together using drone swarm technology to do a range of activities that either cannot or would be too inefficiently completed by a single drone. Each drone may carry out a similar task or have a variety of specialised functions, like data collection, carrying weapons, or relaying messages. Advanced skills are needed for drone swarming, including the ability to keep distance from one another to prevent collisions and the capacity for each tactical drone to anticipate where its neighbours will be at any given moment. Real-time sensing, together with artificial intelligence and computer vision techniques, may help to enable these capabilities. 

Photo representation of swarm communication in drones

RF (radio frequency), cellular, or satellite communications may be used for UAV swarm communications (SATCOM). When operating BVLOS (beyond visual line of sight) and over huge areas where current connectivity is uncertain, the swarm may use ad-hoc networking technology. A decentralised ad-hoc network topology is ideal because individual drones may constantly join to and disconnect from the network. A single GCS (ground control station) may frequently control a swarm of UAVs, reducing equipment requirements and deployment. A single operator won’t have to handle several drones in real time by themselves because the drones will primarily operate on their own. 

What can the swarm technology do in defence?

In the past, UAVs have been used for military surveillance operations. Drones are a versatile and affordable tool that have been used in many industries, including geophysics and agriculture, for airborne surveys, monitoring, and surveillance. A building or environment under surveillance, for instance, could need updates for any movement seen after business hours. For complete manual monitoring, a large facility or environment would require a lot of workers. In contrast, a swarm of drones may cover or monitor the area considerably more effectively with little manual labour by instantly alerting the base station upon movement detection. Some of the most common advantages that swarm drones can bring for defence are as follows:

  • Greater survivability because drones are hard to find, they have a far higher probability of surviving than human aircraft. Similar to this, because the Swarm is a network of many drones, even if some of them are shot down or discovered, other UAVs in the network take up the role of the ones that were killed.
  • Limited effect of Terrain, Camouflage and Dispersion as drones can fly at a closer range than other unmanned aerial technology and can cover larger areas or do multiple scans in swarms for greater accuracy.

Swarm drones with each one assigned a specific task to carry out

Effect of disruption on ground-based weapon systems. The Azeri drones supplied by Turkey and Israel picked up and destroyed the Armenian tanks, mechanised infantry vehicles, artillery guns, and limited air defence weapon systems like ninepins during the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, demonstrating the effectiveness of such weapons in a limited AD environment. Additionally, it offers India and other nations the chance to revamp their military capabilities development and force structure. A small conventional army led by relentless drone assaults is not only a deadly and effective choice, but also a less expensive one, as the fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh has shown.

Public applications of swarm technology

Collaborative transportation using swarm drones

Particularly in the logistical sectors for applications such as package delivery, aerial payload transfer has been gaining popularity. Several businesses, including Flirty with its first FAA-approved autonomous urban drone delivery in the USA in 2016, Amazon with its first drone delivery in the UK in 2016, and Wingcopter with its drone delivering COVID-19 test kits in Scotland in 2020, to name a few, have already used single UAVs for small package delivery. Currently, due to weight and energy limitations, a single UAV can only transport comparatively modest cargo. Therefore, higher payloads would necessitate a larger and heavier UAV that would be challenging to launch owing to safety and regulatory restrictions.

Flirty drones that deliver packages to various locations

Flying Cellular Networks

Although acquiring images and videos with UAVs is now the most common use, research into creating “flying cellular networks” has gained a lot of attention. On the one hand, cellular communication modules can be added to UAVs to increase their operational range and, as a result, their service. Many groups have worked to make this possible application a reality. For instance, DARPA, one of the US military’s research organisations, announced the creation of a programme dubbed Hotspot in 2014 with the goal of creating a swarm of drones that could offer one gigabit per second communications for troops operating in remote locations. Additionally, Google is working on a project called SkyBender that tests millimetre-wave radio broadcasts using a fleet of solar-powered unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). This technology has the potential to transfer gigabytes of data per second, up to 40 times more than current 4G LTE networks.

Google sky-bender testing site: Mexico spaceport centre

Drone light shows

Groups of drones that are lit up, coordinated, and choreographed to form different airborne patterns are used to create drone light displays. A computer software that converts pictures into flight orders and transmits them to the drones can almost reproduce any image in the sky.

Drone light shows with 1000 drones

Drone demonstrations have recently made the transition from academic laboratories to large-scale deployments at well-known events all around the world. The Spaxels Research Initiative, Collmot, and Verity carried out groundbreaking work throughout Europe. The notion has been most widely publicised by Intel, which has flown drone performances at important events including the Winter Olympics and the Super Bowl halftime show.

The Swarm drones are one of the many extensive technologies that have various creative applications in industries. One such application in entertainment is the light shows that the drones are being used for now. Although the technology is not fully complete and research is still going on regarding perfect coordination and other prospects, drones are sure to penetrate into every sector. If we look closer and get into the niche of every field, there are unlimited possibilities that this technology will open up and with the current developments the future where intelligent swarms will carry out the tougher tasks for humans is not very far. 

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