Watch a swarm of drones fly through dense forest – while staying in formation | Science

By Edd Gent

Weaving through dense forests is a challenge for even the smartest drone. Trying to do it as part of a swarm is orders of magnitude more difficult. But researchers have now cracked the code.

The approach builds on a single drone navigation technique, which quickly maps routes around obstacles when they come into view using only the drone’s built-in camera and computer. The team, which was also behind the earlier strategy, adapted it for swarms by having drones broadcast their trajectories over a wireless network. This allowed the other drones to choose routes that avoided collisions while remaining in formation.

The technique, published on the arXiv preprint server last month, requires very little computing power and works even if the wireless connection is spotty. In real-world tests, a swarm of three drones could move quickly through a forest of randomly distributed trees.

The approach could easily scale up, say the researchers, who have already “flown” swarms of up to 10 virtual drones in computer simulations of densely packed forests. The technology, they say, could hold promise for search and rescue missions in disaster areas or for surveying ecologically interesting habitats under forest canopies.