The use of drones is finally well out into the open. Some aspects of drones are still seen as fringe, however. The idea of autonomous drones is one area that still hasn't emerged into mainstream media. So, as the debate still rests upon whether or not to use drones in America - or if they should be weaponized or not, scientists are already working on the next level of drone evolution.
The military has announced the success of autonomous drones in the following areas:
- Navy Successfully Tests Autonomous Drone Landings
- Autonomous Drone Swarms Set to Launch, "Reducing Burden" on Humans
- Project MUSIC officially integrates unmanned and manned aircraft in combat
But how about autonomous drones that can self-assemble, with each individual component deciding for itself how to create its flight design and path? It's called a Distributed Flight Array, and it is poised to redefine the potential drones of the future.
Researchers at ETH Zurich have demonstrated an amazing capability for small robots to self-assemble and take to the air as a multi-rotor helicopter. Maximilian Kriegleder and Raymond Oung worked with Professor Raffaello D’Andrea at his research lab to develop the small hexagonal pods that assemble into flying rafts. (Source)
The individual units begin with an eerie mating dance, as they spin around one another and interlock. Once connected, each unit will use its sensors to determine what will offer the best elements and pattern for flight. Some of the results can be seen here:
For now, the Distributed Flight Array appears somewhat limited, but with an ongoing investment in self-replication and self-assembly, the sky's the limit.
Here is another good example of self-assembling flying robots with some background about how this trend in "Spatially Targeted Communication and Self-Assembly" is developing:
However, one would be remiss not to point out the darker side of military applications. Here is the Air Force concept for potentially lethal drone swarms in targeted areas. Turning these units loose to make independent "decisions" might have unintended consequences:
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