Drone swarms

Drone swarms

The ongoing war in Ukraine has seen the deployment of drone swarms to monitor the frontlines, gather intelligence, and target enemy positions. The deployment of these swarms has provided both sides with enhanced intelligence gathering and targeting capabilities.

The technology

Drone swarms are typically controlled and directed through pre-programmed instructions and real-time operator input. Individual drones can communicate with each other and with a ground station or control center to coordinate their action. The common approach to controlling a drone swarm involves a centralized ground station equipped with specialized software for controlling and coordinating the swarm. The ground station receives live video feeds or sensor data, which can be analyzed to inform real-time decision-making.

Another approach to controlling these systems involves swarm intelligence algorithms that allow drones to communicate with each other and make decisions collectively. In this approach, a program with rules or objectives enables these machines to work together without centralized control.

Use cases

In addition to their use in the military, drone swarms are now getting used across various industries and applications.

1.      The technology can effectively conduct search and rescue operations in remote or dangerous areas. They can quickly cover large areas and identify survivors or missing persons. :

2.      These systems can be used to optimize fertilizer and irrigation applications. Their use in precision agriculture and monitoring crop and soil health is an emerging use case.

3.      Construction sites can use drone swarms to monitor progress, identify safety hazards, and perform site surveys. They can also be used to inspect structures and infrastructure for damage or maintenance needs.

4.      Using drone swarms in light shows and other public displays like concerts and sporting events is becoming popular. These swarms can create stunning visual displays and patterns in the sky.

5.      Wildlife populations can be tracked, and water quality monitoring and wildfire detection are other use cases of drone swarm technology.

6.      Drone swarms are used for package delivery and logistics in urban areas. These systems provide a faster and more efficient delivery service than traditional ground transportation methods.

Several companies like DJI from China, Lockheed Martin, Intel and AeroVironment from the US, Elistair from France, and DroneSwarm from Canada have started manufacturing drone swarm applications.

A drone swarm startup in 2016

On April 13th, 2016, Norway's leading multinational company DNV GL hosted Norway's Prime Minister in Singapore. The PM unveiled -The Hive- a fully autonomous drone docking station developed by SwarmX, a one-year-old startup. Pulkit Jaiswal, the 23year old CEO of SwarmX, whom I interviewed over Skype as part of my coverage of the global event for tech startups Rise, was understandably delighted at the development.

Pulkit, with two other co-founders, created SwarmX in April 2015. Before that, the young man spent three years building Garuda Robotics with two other Founders. SwarmX came into being soon after he quit Garuda. Pulkit is a prodigal young man who dropped out of Stanford, where he relocated from Singapore to study an atmosphere of innovation. Too restless to complete formal education, Pulkit, at twenty years of age, started Garuda Robotics.

And now, within a year of starting SwarmX, he has successfully built an innovative industrial drone system and convinced a global multinational to enter into a worldwide business partnership with his firm. He has already secured two funding rounds and is close to securing a third round.

DNV GL plans to bundle the SwarmX product with its integrated smart operations offering. They plan to take this to their wind and solar farm clients worldwide. This platform will help improve productivity, increase overall efficiency, and help reduce the operating costs of solar farm customers of DNV GL.

The SwarmX product comprises two parts- a piece of hardware called The Hive and its integrated application, the Hive Mind. Together they constitute the SwarmX drone asset monitoring platform.

Solar panels require to be periodically checked for defects from overheating. The overheated panels show reduced performance. The defective panels are replaced. Work teams are traditionally deployed to check each board in a solar farm periodically physically. A scaffolding is erected around a meeting set to enable inspection. It is a cumbersome, time-consuming process. The inspection work could take weeks to complete in a large solar farm.

With the help of SwarmX drone swarms, this can be accomplished in a day. Each drone set is composed of a drone with a mounted infrared camera. The vehicle is launched from an autonomous portable platform called The Hive Box. A drone can stay in the air for up to forty-five minutes.

Integrated into the Hive box is the Hive Mind application. On completion of its task, the application directs the drone to a precision docking onto the Hive Box docking platform. In situ, the drone battery is autonomously recharged. Data captured during the flight is uploaded onto a secure private cloud. The recharging and data download work is concluded in forty-five minutes.

The drone is now ready again for another mission. The entire process is done autonomously and does not need human intervention. The Hive box is all weatherproof. Multiple drones can be launched simultaneously using individual hive boxes. The tasks DNV GL clients would take weeks to complete can now be done in a day. No wonder, Pulkit was able to secure a partnership deal with DNV GL. The product he brought was an offer they could accept.

SwarmsX drone technology, as said earlier, is an asset monitoring platform. As designed today, it can be deployed for city and industrial block security surveillance, mine site monitoring, and a host of remote and non-intrusively observed uses.

SwarmX drones are manufactured in Shenzhen in the People's Republic of China. The Hive Mind application design and development was done in Singapore. The ten-member SwarmX team who accomplished this task includes top-notch people with machine learning, artificial intelligence, design, and programming skills. 

Pulkit is in the process of moving the SwarmX main design team to California. SwarmX is now headquartered out of the US. Singapore is now a branch office. In the US, Pulkit says, he will be able to get the best machine learning and innovative talent critical to the growth and upgradation of the Swarm X platform. At the heart of the platform lies its asset monitoring, artificial intelligence, and machine learning brain algorithms. Silicon Valley will give the venture the ideal ecosystem for moving this work.

The US is also a safe and secure drone testing location for subsequent models that will inevitably come from the SwarmX stable. The regulatory ecosystem in the US facilitates these tasks. Six US states permit the testing and flying of drones. Pulkit is looking at the State of Nevada as his drone testing site.

The current set of industrial drones, including those used by SwarmX, has certain limitations. Their ability to stay in the air is rarely above forty-five minutes. After that, drone batteries need to be recharged. It limits the drone's operational ability. Things have dramatically changed ever since. Drone swarm technology has now evolved, use cases have risen, and the skills of the systems greatly upgraded.

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