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From conducting reconnaissance in advance of missions through to searching for survivors in collapsed, unstable buildings in humanitarian operations, the potential on future bee-sized bots to reduce risk and save human lives is enormous.

Micro-bots and milli-bots – the next generation of drones – will not only be smaller but also smarter, faster and deployable in powerful swarms. They will be able to work intuitively and collaboratively in teams, with or without humans, to carry out complex missions.

Human ground warriors could have a machine-based teammate – one that is a swarm, including more than 250 small flying, climbing and “walking” machines. Collectively, the swarm can autonomously take on tasks that are dangerous for their human teammates.

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency DARPA has been pushing forward a number of programs that are radically changing the way drones will be used.

FLA (Fast Lightweight Autonomy), OFFSET (Offensive Swarm-Enabled Tactics) and SHRIMP (Short-Range Independent Microrobotic Platforms), are three such promising initiatives already delivering remarkable results.

DARPA has selected a number of top teams to contribute their smarts to creating this new generation.

These little fellas will be absolutely game-changing when the military is required to deploy in urban terrains. They represent a series of remarkable advances and breakthroughs with wide-ranging implications for other technology in the military space and also in the civilian space, according to

Here’s a look at the sort of missions swarms can take on and how they will interact with human warriors.

Sending on missions – The goal is for the drones to be autonomous on an unprecedented level. This will also be evident in how they interact with humans. Directing them will go beyond the tablet. The drones will be smart enough to respond to cues and gestures much like a human teammate would.

Autonomy – The new generation of drones will be truly autonomous – not just able to fly from A to B complying with instructions and coordinates or mindlessly following humans like robot ‘dogs’ carrying heavy loads. These drones will be able to think for themselves, adapt to the environment and each other, problem solve and work collaboratively.

Urban warfare – Urban and subterranean environments can present a lot of potentially dangerous unknowns. So stealthy, smart and small combat units will have the powerful advantage of unprecedented data in advance thanks to these little drones.

Tiny bots can crawl under cracks below doors, fly through partially opened windows, discreetly perch on a combatant’s shoe, even infiltrating a heavily fortified bomb-making lab. Another example would be hostage rescues where the bots could surreptitiously deploy into the enemy held area, map it out, identify the exact number of combatants, how they are armed, the locations of all combatants and the hostages, the medical condition of the hostages and more.

Swarm raids – U.S. drone swarms comprised of a mix of bots could eventually be capable of conducting their own urban raids. Swarms will also be able to deploy alongside human teams and take on tasks such as suppressing enemy fire, maintaining flank security or even isolating and clearing a building.

Stealth operation – Since this new generation will be far more autonomous, they won’t need communications links to a human “pilot.” This will reduce radio transmissions between the bots and the human team, making it harder for enemy forces to detect bot swarms that have covertly infiltrated to monitor them.

Search and rescue – Micro-bots and milli-bots can also provide huge humanitarian impact as well in terms of saving lives and helping keep rescuers safe. Tiny bots, for example, can navigate through rubble to help quickly locate survivors trapped in the aftermath of an earthquake