Are China's "Drone Swarms" The Military Weapon Of The Future?

China, the country where fireworks were invented back in in ninth century, recently decided to ban fireworks displays in more than 400 cities, a decision that has forced companies and municipalities to brainstorm alternative forms of entertainment that won't have such a deleterious impact on the environment. One perhaps unintended result of this decision has been an explosion in demonstrations involving "drone swarms" of LED-equipped flying robots, according to Bloomberg. In fact, shows involving more than 1,000 flying drones have cropped up around China - with the robots being used for celebrations commemorating everything from the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang to the Spring Festival Gala sponsored by China's state-run news channel CCTV.

Drones

And while China insists that these "drone swarms" are for entertainment purposes only, we can't help but wonder: Will "drone swarms" become the weapon of the future?

While the Intel performance at PyeongChang was pre-recorded, EHang has performed for live audiences. Some drones failed to stay in formation during parts of Ehang’s record show and Xiong said the issue may have been due to man-made interference, but declined to provide details.

Founded by Duke graduate Xiong and his partner Huazhi Hu in 2014, Guangzhou, China-based EHang raised $42 million in a Series B round the following year with investors including GP Capital, GGV Capital and ZhenFund.

EHang’s drones aren’t the only ones getting attention. When state broadcaster CCTV held its annual Spring Festival Gala, the world’s most-watched TV show, it featured Zhuhai-based Oceanalpha’s performance of 80 boat bots.

Of course, organizers of drone displays like the ones we mentioned above must contend with obstacles like the fact that China has strict controls on the usage of its airspace. EHang, one Chinese dronemaker, raised $42 million in a Series B round the following year with investors including GP Capital, GGV Capital and ZhenFund. So far, its swarms have been on display in 20 countries during events like Cirque du Soleil and concerts put on by the metal band Metallica. Most interestingly, drones that are part of the storm communicate with one another via artificial intelligence (a technology that China has also outmaneuvered the US in developing...)

Verity Studios, a company founded by robotics expert Raffaello D’Andrea that focuses on live drone shows, has performed swarm displays in 20 countries, including at Cirque du Soleil and on tour with Metallica.

One of the challenges in China is restrictions on the nation’s airspace. Xiong has sought to address that by offering some control to authorities by designing command and control centers that can track traffic. Profits from shows are supporting the company as it works toward a goal of bringing to market the first passenger drone , a concept that is being tested at an abandoned amusement park in its hometown.

Phil Finnegan, director of corporate analysis at Teal Group, said regulators concerned with making sure each drone is operated by one operator could limit the use of swarms.

"There are military applications for swarms, but in terms of commercial, it’s nascent," he said. "The concern is that regulatory authorities may allow this in limited circumstances and widespread use is still far off."

Many kinks in the technology still need to be worked out, per Bloomberg.

While the Intel performance at PyeongChang was pre-recorded, EHang has performed for live audiences. Some drones failed to stay in formation during parts of Ehang’s record show and Xiong said the issue may have been due to man-made interference, but declined to provide details.

Founded by Duke graduate Xiong and his partner Huazhi Hu in 2014, Guangzhou, China-based EHang raised $42 million in a Series B round the following year with investors including GP Capital, GGV Capital and ZhenFund.

Surprisingly, EHang and other drone manufacturers insist that civilian applications have been the most lucrative so far, and that military applications remain far off.

Swarms burst onto the global stage at the Winter Olympics in February, when Intel Corp. used more than 1,200 drones to fly as one in the shape of athletes. Since PyeongChang, there has been debate on their use, including the controversial potential for military applications. Ehang’s focus for now is on making money from civilians, with a May 1 live performance launched from the ancient city wall of Xi’an watched by more than 100,000 people and part of a deal that netted the company a 10.5 million yuan ($1.6 million) payday.

"We have other business sectors but the first one we have monetized is the drone swarm performances," said Ehang co-founder Derrick Xiong, adding that EHang is also developing passenger and delivery drones. "It’s a more environmentally friendly way of doing fireworks."

As "China Uncensored" pointed out in an episode published late last year, the Chinese Communist Party is developing military applications for these "drone swarms" that will allow the drones to communicate with each other at speeds that are impossible for human pilots.

So what do you think? Are drone swarms the "weapon of the future" that will give China's military the edge it needs to outmaneuver the US? Or are these just a high-tech way to make sure Metallica never burns down the venue with poorly supervised pyrotechnics?

Comments

tmosley Sun, 06/17/2018 - 23:02 Permalink

Yes, drone swarms are definitely the weapon of the future. Outfit swarms of microdrones with gallium and mercury payloads, and a little stinger to scratch through paint, and you have a weapon that can take out any infrastructure over the course of a few hours.

These make nuclear weapons obsolete.

LightBeamCowboy tmosley Mon, 06/18/2018 - 10:20 Permalink

I can remember when San Francisco decided that employing all those people with brooms to sweep the streets was too expensive. So they fired the humans, who are now homeless and cluttering the sidewalks with their tents and feces, and put up complicated, confusing signs all over the city on when all cars must be moved so a mechanical street sweeper can come through. This made lots of work for tow truck companies and generates millions in fines on those who don't move their car at exactly the correct hour. This is a win for everyone but SF citizens, which is how all liberal-run cities work.

In reply to by tmosley

land_of_the_few secretargentman Mon, 06/18/2018 - 04:29 Permalink

Re. world record 1200 drone displays shown on TV for the Winter Olympics opening ceremony in Seoul, South Korea organized by Intel Corp.

https://www.recode.net/2018/2/10/16998652/drones-guinness-world-record-…

Seems Intel acquired a German drone startup:-

https://techcrunch.com/2016/01/04/intel-acquires-drone-startup-ascendin…

No doubt China is doing similar efforts. And didn't someone do a mass drone attack in Syria lately? It wasn't the Syrians ...

 

In reply to by secretargentman

Urban Roman tmosley Mon, 06/18/2018 - 00:18 Permalink

Exactly. Apparently the author of the aricle hasn't seen the 'slaughterbots' video. The payload could be dart frog poison, or simply a tiny thimble of RDX, enough to penetrate a skull and scamble the contents.

With no more 'intelligence' than a modern voice-recognition smartphone, a micro quad rotor device can perch in a quiet location, activated by heat or motion, and wait for weeks, or months. It can recognize its quarry and dispatch him/her/it in a few seconds almost without warning.

In reply to by tmosley

The Ram dark pools of soros Mon, 06/18/2018 - 09:10 Permalink

What are we fighting for......no I don't give a damned....next stop is Vietnam (or fill in your favorite 3rd world nation.  For those of you too young to remember Woodstock, the song does like this (roughly):

'Come on all you big strong men, uncle Sam needs your help again....got himself in a terrible jam....way down there in Vietnam, throw down your books and pick up your guns...we are all going to have a lot of fun....

Refrain: 'And it's one, two, three, four...what are we fighting for, no I don't give a damned....next stop is Vietnam...and it's five , six, seven ,eight....open those pearly gates....woopee we all going to die.'

There are a few more verses which I don't remember.  Great song recalling the fabulous 60's.  Interesting that we are quickly entering another 60's type era again with lots of political strife, social divisions, and perhaps another large shooting war.  We can only hope the current generation of young kids tells Uncle Sam to go pound sand.  Let Trump, Lyndsey, McCain, Mattis, Pompeo and all the other neocons walk on some landmine in the ME.

 

In reply to by dark pools of soros

surf@jm Sun, 06/17/2018 - 23:11 Permalink

Too reliant on radio frequency transmissions for control......

Easily jamable......

But, if pre programmed before launch, then possibly reliable....

And if pre programmed to search out and destroy, evade, and stealthily avoid detection with each unit carrying its own AI.....then potentially lethal....

You can bet your sweet bippy they have been militarized..... Terminators....

worbsid Sun, 06/17/2018 - 23:23 Permalink

Godzilla vs the drone swarms.  I have been flying model airplanes and helicopters forever and there has always been the possibility of a weapon, even a .22 and a video to aim it.  Add modern electronics and you have a serious problem.

erg Sun, 06/17/2018 - 23:44 Permalink

If it's percolating toward public consciousness; it's dated technology.

One wonders what black-op tech is in the now.

Tech leeches to the rabble when it has been mostly squeezed of all its' worth, if at all.