First Commercially Available Drone Swarm Headed to Market
Drone manufacturer Red Cat Holdings is taking orders for its four-drone “swarm” that will be available for delivery later this year, marking what the company bills as the first instance of a fully operational multi-drone system coming to market.
The drone and software package allows a single operator to plan, launch and execute multiple-ship missions and is aimed at the defense, government and public-safety markets, the company says.
“We have shippable product on hand and are now taking orders for delivery this fall,”
Red Cat Holdings CEO Jeff Thompson says. “We are committed to staying at the forefront of our rapidly developing industry, which is why we are excited to be, to our knowledge, the first commercial enterprise to bring a fully operational multi-drone system to market. This is a significant milestone for both our company and the entire drone industry.”
The multi-ship platform was developed by Red Cat subsidiary Teal Drones and strategic partner Autonodyne LLC and is based on Teal’s Golden Eagle drone, which is the first drone to be mass produced entirely in the U.S. under Defense Department guidelines, Red Cat says.
The multi-drone set comes in two configurations: 4-Ship and 4-Ship+. Both configurations include four Golden Eagles and a controller, but the 4-Ship+ option includes two additional drones and an additional linked controller. The extra controller allows the handoff of swarm control from one pilot to another, while the additional drones allow pilots to swap fully charged units for units with drained batteries so a mission can continue uninterrupted. The biggest weakness of any drone is limited battery life, Red Cat notes.
“4-Ship represents truly disruptive technology that will alter the approach to intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance,” Thompson adds. “No longer are drone applications limited to a one-pilot/one-drone situation, drastically altering the potential missions for drones due to the ability of a single pilot to be able to control a team of drones. The 4-Ship already provides significant flexibility in applications, from security to agriculture to law enforcement, as well as the expected military applications, for which there is expressed interest.”
Indeed, Golden Eagles are already seeing action. The company announced in April that an unidentified NATO-member country ordered 15 drones, plus spares and training, for deployment in Ukraine, where drones have become a critical tool, both for observing enemy movement and deploying weapons against them. The Ukrainian military has reportedly expressed interest in the 4-Ship platform, as well.
The multi-drone package provides several benefits to end users, Red Cat says. Four simultaneous video feeds deliver faster situational awareness and decision making, which is key in today’s “complex” environments, and the capability of one operator controlling four drones at once cuts down significantly on manpower costs since four pilots are replaced by one, according to the company.
Red Cat sketched out three common scenarios for using 4-Ship. In the 360-degree view scenario, a pilot can instruct all four drones to provide complete video coverage of a target, either friendly or hostile, by simply entering the “surround” command on the controller. In the infinite-battery surveillance scenario, a single drone can monitor a target until it reaches a low battery state, at which point a new drone will replace it, creating a cycle that can effectively provide infinite surveillance of a target. Finally, in the surveying scenario, all four aircraft map different parts of an area, after which their imagery is stitched together into a single map. Using four vehicles to do the job of one could cut a two-hour survey down to 30 minutes, Red Cat says.
“With 4-Ship, we have successfully integrated the human/machine interface with an embedded autonomy engine that offers additional intelligence and surveillance capabilities from a single pilot and controller,” Autonodyne CEO Steve Jacobson says. “The ease of use and multitude of applications makes the 4-Ship a next-generation drone system.”