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Swarms of airplanes from the skies of war to the works of peace

drone that is, in Finnish, airplanes are repeatedly mentioned in the news about the war. They seem to have made aerial photography commonplace in civilian life events as well.

The age of airplanes may be just beginning, as their technology is beginning to approach the fantasies of the last century.

Polish science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem ideas in his book Peace in the land vin 1985 micro-robots forming armies and replacing human soldiers.

“Globally, the demand for swarms of drones is growing rapidly,” says a specialist researcher at VTT Technology Research Center Hannu Karvonen.

of the United States the navy is already developing a force of thousands of drones.

Technology magazine MIT Technology Review’n says the Navy may be ahead of anyone else in the military applications of drone swarms.

So we can expect swarms of robots moving in air, water and underwater. Airplanes form a whole named Super Swarm i.e. loosely translated super swarm.

Such swarms work in a different way than, for example, the airplane squadrons used in light shows. In the demonstrations, the drones fly along programmed routes independently of each other.

In the new flocks, the drones themselves monitor each other, other aircraft and possible obstacles.

Soldiers especially their accuracy is of interest in drone swarms.

If the swarm attacks a warship, each drone can be directed to deliver explosives to critical locations such as communications equipment and weapon systems.

A swarm can be more powerful than a big missile. The individual drones in the flock can specialize. Some carry explosives, others jamming devices, and still others sensors.

In a project called MASS, the US Navy is developing cheap ways to mass-produce airplanes. The devices are designed digitally and parts are manufactured with 3D printing. The manufacturing plant can be close to the theater of war, such as on a support ship.

For the time being, the big planes will remain alongside the airplane flocks. The drone flies a limited distance. Therefore, the Super Swarm project includes a sub-project in which researchers develop the so-called marsupial system.

The concept refers to large aircraft robots carrying a swarm of small robots. US manufacturers Krotos and General Atomics have already demonstrated large drones that carry troops of small drones.

In addition to the United States, at least China, India, Russia, Great Britain, Turkey and Israel are developing flocks of military aircraft.

Along with flocks, the Chinese have developed marsupial technology like the United States. In May, Huangpu Wenchong Shipping Company announcedin Guangzhou aircraft carrierwhich is also told in this link.

Israel has already used swarms of drones militarily. In 2021 the country’s military utilized a swarm of drones in intelligence when the Israelis attacked the Hamas organization in Gaza.

Also in Finland military applications of drone swarms have been studied. One topic has been combating enemy swarms.

“Last year, we did a simulation project within the funding of the National Defense Scientific Advisory Board. We are investigating how to repel a swarm of attacking drones equipped with explosives so that they do not reach their target,” says Karvonen. He is involved in several projects in the field.

“The swarm can be countered with a counter-swarm that collides with the attacking drones. We developed a winning algorithm. The group of defenders can also use different tools, for example nets.”

Along with the military, swarms of drones can be used by terrorists, who have their own special difficulties in combating them. You have to think about those too.

“If a terrorist invades with a swarm of drones above the stadium, for example, and the interception swarm encounters the question of how to avoid drones falling on people’s necks,” Karvonen reflects.

for a flock of airplanes there are many kinds of applications also in civilian life.

A swarm of drones can monitor floods and pollution, transport goods, form a flying messaging network and build houses.

An important task could be, for example, searching for a lost person:

“If a person with Alzheimer’s disease disappears in freezing weather, a swarm equipped with thermal cameras can quickly scan a large area,” says Karvonen.

In Finland, the monitoring of wildfires with a swarm of airplanes is also being researched In the FireMan project financed by the Academy of Finland.

“Drones’ artificial intelligence has been trained in Kulotuspolti to detect smoke sources and other critical points in the terrain. The swarm’s drones can collect data from different angles and share a large area with each other,” says Karvonen.

The use of drone swarms also depends on the development of the sensors needed for observation. Thermal cameras already help in monitoring wildfires.

“Based on the data collected during summer arson fires, the thermal camera image seems to offer the best situational picture of the fire area itself,” says Karvonen.

With a thermal camera image, you can see through the smoke the areas where the fire is. The user gets a clear picture of the progress of the fire front.

Could you a swarm of helicopters even put out wildfires? Karvonen reminds that the size of the devices sets its limitations.

“The problem is that current drones are not yet able to lift very large amounts of weight into the air. Although some individual large drones are capable, their costs are too high compared to traditional extinguishing,” says Karvonen.

Italian mechanical engineer Elena Ausonio from the University of Genoa and his colleagues have calculated that one airplane can carry 5 to 50 liters of water. The researchers modeled Extinguishing bushfires in the Mediterranean area with a helicopter swarm.

Perhaps in the future, a swarm of cheap small drones could work together to lift a larger mass of water into the air and spray it on the fire area. In this way, a trickle like rain could be produced. A flock of airplanes could spread an ecological fire retardant in the forest.

The bad fire area must be reforested. Company DroneSeed Seattle in the United States has received approval from the country’s aviation agency to use a flock of drones while the forest is being restored.

HOW then the drones are able to move without bumping into each other and obstacles such as trees?

Pilots and pilots must also be able to see possible helicopters and airplanes in their area.

“The sharing and use of drones’ airspace is similar to air traffic control,” says Karvonen.

“Drones can also calculate their position, search for a suitable flight path and, while flying, use various sensors to identify obstacles in the environment so they don’t collide with them. This calculation can be done in real time with the computer on board the drone.”

With intelligent navigation equipped with the most suitable calculation software, other airplanes and other obstacles on the flight path can be detected and avoided.

“The ability of drones to make fast movements and avoid collisions has improved rapidly in the last couple of years.”

The Chinese have dominated the drone market. Now, European operators are looking for alternatives, especially for government applications.

“Finns have a lot of export opportunities that should be taken advantage of,” says Karvonen.

Individual flying drones and their services have been produced in Finland for years by several companies, such as Avartek, Nordic Drones and the airship drone manufacturer Kelluu.

The development of the industry is accelerated by a European U-space regulation. It should create rules for the use of drones in the lower atmosphere. The regulation is planned to enter into force next year.

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