Massive Autonomous Drone Delivery System (MADDS)

Dr. Ron Fulbright’s concept for large swarms of autonomous drones was recently selected for showcasing at the 2018 Fall Defense TechConnect conference in Tampa, FL. Only about 1/3rd of the submissions to the conference were selected for showcasing involving the display of the idea in a special session at the conference. The purpose of the conference is to give the Department of Defense, and other government agencies, access to new and emerging technologies. 

Dr. Fulbright’s “Massive Autonomous Distributed Delivery System,” or MADDS, employs thousands of heavy-lift drones to do things like fight wild fires and deliver bulk quantities of goods to earthquake, flood, and famine-ravaged areas.  


A MADDS swarm can deliver a thousand times more water or fire retardant to a wild fire than the largest air tanker in existence. Furthermore, deployment can be shaped to follow the irregularities of the fire line or to carpet a large geographic area. A MADDS swarm could also deliver a a million gallons of potable water a day to a hurricane or flood-ravaged area and keep that up indefinitely if necessary. 

“These are not the miniature drones you may be thinking of.” says Dr. Fulbright, “These drones are at least eight feet across and each can lift hundreds of pounds of payload using existing technology with the promise of doubling that capacity in the near future.” However, no drone currently on the market is suited for this type of application. As Dr. Fulbright explains, “Flying a small drone with a camera is one thing but operating thousands of large drones in harsh and demanding environments presents many challenges no existing drone on the market can meet.”


The project has been one of Dr. Fulbright’s research areas over the last two years. Using a systematic innovation technique called “I-TRIZ,” Dr. Fulbright has invented ways to overcome each challenge. The result is the modular, self-servicing drone concept presented at the Defense TechConnect conference. Dr. Fulbright teaches I-TRIZ in his undergraduate course INFO 307: Systematic Innovation and even used some aspects of the drone swarm idea for student projects.


The project has resulted in a several innovations in drone design and operation. The University of South Carolina Technology Commercialization Office has submitted seven provisional patent applications stemming from the work.