A physicist loose among the liberal arts

Daedalus versus Drone

The latest science-fictional device to hit the press is a swarm of hand-sized autonomous drones that can be dropped from a fighter or bomber.

Image credit: Popular Mechanics Magazine

As they fall, they form themselves into self-organized structures that fly about in ways that are by now familiar from a hundred YouTube videos.. The hardware and software originated at MIT. It’s called “Perdix”.

“Named after a character from Greek mythology,” the Popular Mechanics article says. Perdix is pretty obscure, so I looked him up. Ovid’s Metamorphoses, book 8.

Perdix was Daedalus’s nephew. Long before the Icarus incident, he showed himself to be an even cleverer engineer than Daedalus. Invented the compass, for example.  (The geometry one, not the navigation one.). Daedalus, jealous of his status, was enraged by the boy’s presumption and threw him off the Acropolis.  Halfway down the cliff, Perdix was saved when Minerva changed him into a partridge and he could fly the rest of the way down.  Partridges never fly more than a few feet off the ground because they still have PTSD from that event.

I have been amusing myself for a while now, speculating about reasons this story never gets mentioned in the press.


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1 Comment

  1. It’s been a while since I read my Ovid, and as you say, this character is pretty obscure. I can’t say I remembered him. Thanks for the reminder and a good laugh.

    The etymology for this word for a partridge (and the word ‘partridge’ itself) gets more interesting the deeper I look. Apparently partridges in flight make rude noises. Maybe they’re blowing raspberries in preemptive response to those who would ridicule their fear of heights?

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