The Future of Swarms – Splittable Drones

The Future of Swarms – Splittable Drones

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A new and revolutionary modular splittable drone can separate mid-flight into smaller, independent drones. This new alleged development by Chinese scientists could swarm enemy airspace and confuse anti-drone and anti-aircraft defense systems. The researchers claim that the drone can split into two, three, or even six smaller sub-drones inspired by a maple seed, that could potentially signal a new type of drone warfare.

According to Interesting Engineering, each splittable drone subunit has a single blade and can hover freely like a regular drone. The researchers claim that these tiny drones could perform specific mini-roles like command, reconnaissance, tracking, and even attacking.

This innovation was developed by Professor Shi Zhiwei from Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, who published his team’s findings in Acta Aeronautica et Astronautica Sinica journal. In the paper, they claim to have successfully overcome the challenge of designing a drone combination with nearly twice the flight efficiency of a similarly sized multirotor drone.

They explain that when the splittable drone subunits work together they can fly faster and cover longer distances than they do individually. However, even after separating, the drones still have a 40% higher flight efficiency than traditional small drones.

The scientists reached this innovation by taking inspiration from an unlikely source – the maple seed, whose unique structure includes a wing-like cotyledon that rotates around it, providing lift and allowing it to hover and even ascend in windy conditions.

When it comes to applications, the seed-inspired drones could be especially useful for drone swarming in future warfare, but only if the challenge to assemble them for efficient long-distance flight is solved. To do so, the researchers conducted extensive wind tunnel tests and found a blade shape that supported combined flight and single-flight efficiency.

It is important to note, however, that the combined splittable drone’s maximum flight speed was not comparable to high-performance military drones, but that may not matter since the role of the combined drone is simply to enter enemy airspace where it would split, enabling the swarm to overwhelm enemy defenses through the sheer mass of numbers.