Drone swarm operations gaining traction

By Luke Geiver | May 14, 2019

As the drone industry gains the ability to fly beyond visual line of sight operations, flights over people or during no-light conditions, another use-case is also gaining traction: drone swarms.

University-led research efforts and private industry have both tested and proven how small unmanned aircraft systems can work in unison and now, some researchers are going a step further to look at the practical elements of running multiple drones for a single mission at once.

At Iowa State University, a team of researchers has developed a new analytical model that examines the cost, time and energy related to a multi drone flight based on the number of drones used and charging stations available.

Borzoo Bonakdarpour, an assistant professor of computer science, is leading the research. His research looks at the energy required for each drone to complete its portion of the task and fly to a charging station as needed. The research team recently presented a paper at the International Conference on Cyber-Physical Systems on their findings. The team developed four operating methods for running a drone swarm. Three of the methods were based on preprogrammed flight paths that didn’t allow for unexpected events. The fourth method was designed using an algorithm that worked to control the drones from a communication connection. They found the online algorithm successfully managed the security-energy tradeoff within the energy limits of the drones. The fleet completed all assigned tasks and more than half of the authentication checks.

With researchers like Bonakdarpour and his team looking at the economics and feasibility of running multiple drones at once for a singular task, there are also companies performing swarm-based services without examining the practicality or economics of such operations. 

Out of Israel, vHive, a developer of cloud-based software solutions that enable customers to use drone swarms to collect data, recently completed testing for cell tower inspections using its artificial intelligence systems to control drone swarms tasked with surveying the towers. “vHive’s AI enables us to rapidly scan through acquired data and identify objects of interest,” said Tomer Daniel, chief technology officer.

Through vHive’s service, the company will plan and run a multi-drone flight using the customers current fleet of drones.

Currently, Intel Corp. is using drone swarm technology to perform aerial light displays. Most use-cases for multiple drones operating a single mission at once, however, are related to military and defense operations.