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In Star Trek Beyond, the Enterprise crew aboard the USS Franklin discerns by way of Spock and Bone's espionage the exact UHF frequency to play Beastie Boy's Sabotage for to disrupt the drone cooperation. When Starbase Yorktown joins the party, drones by the screen-full burst into spectacular fireballs. I understand that without their hive mind they would no longer fly in formation, but what causes them to freaking blow up? Did I miss some dialog?

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    I recall some of the dialogue being about what kind of signal would disturb the swarm the most catastrophically, which I assumed meant they wanted to make the bee ships run into each other and blow up rather than simply go the wrong way. Though I agree the visuals made it look like all the ships just spontaneously combusted when confronted with classical music. – Ixrec Aug 4 '16 at 7:23
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    I agree with @Ixrec's interpretation. I had to think about it a bit while watching the film, as they don't exactly make it obvious. I think the real tipoff is to consider how the swarm ships work - their m.o. is to ram into a larger ship en masse. Given that, it's reasonable to conclude that, lacking guidance, they'll run into their neighbors. – recognizer Aug 4 '16 at 17:53
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    @recognizer, I imagine you will ultimately be correct. That being said, isn't the bee ship the kind of ship that DOESN'T explode when it crashes - by design? – Jerry Nixon - TOS Aug 4 '16 at 19:33
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    @JerryNixon-TOS It's made of, um, a high-tech alloy that can't be pierced by anything except another ship made of that alloy. Sure, that sounds legit, right? – recognizer Aug 4 '16 at 20:24
  • I don't think you missed any dialog, but I do think you maybe missed the last twenty years of blockbuster film... – Lightness Races in Orbit Aug 4 '16 at 23:40
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Having watched (and rewatched) this scene, I'm really no wiser as to why the ships started exploding, other than that the radio signal somehow causes it. The explanation given on screen is no real help.

Spock: From what I can ascertain, the ships share a cyberpathic link that coordinates their actions. Patching it through now.

Uhura: That's what that signal was. They weren't jamming us, they were talking to each other

Kirk: Well, how do we get them to stop talking?

Scott: What about ah, electromagnetic focusing? We could use the transporters to disrupt their network

Spock: The focus might be too specific. If we can find some sort of disruptive communication signal inside the swarm, it might inversely affect their capacity to coordinate.

Chekov: It would have to be at a frequency that they will not anticipate.

Sulu: It could cause a chain reaction that would wipe out the whole swarm.

Scott: Sir, a closed network like that might be susceptible to Very High Frequency.

Kirk: VHF. [beat] Radio! We can broadcast something from the ship to drown out the links. Loud and distracting.

Scott: Loud and distracting? I've got just the thing.

  • If Spock really meant inversely, not adversely then the answer is right there. Obviously there is a magical frequency that makes them attack each other rather than cooperate. Or whatever inverse coordination would be. /s – ThePopMachine Aug 15 '16 at 16:48
  • @ThePopMachine - Could mean inversely as in - the signal uber-enhances their ability to focus and coordinate. Inversely could mean that the disruption does not just stop enhancing the effect, but negatively impacts those abilities. – PoloHoleSet Aug 13 '18 at 15:45
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They are not spontaneously exploding

The drones are attacking as an overwhelming, densely-packed precisely synchronized swarm, performing intricate and coordinated maneuvers, en masse, in perfect harmony, at very high velocity.

As soon as that perfect coordination is disrupted they are going to start bumping and colliding with each other. Packed as tight as they are, moving as fast as they are, that's going to create a chain reaction of collisions.

EDIT: It is also possible that the close proximity to an exploding ship might cause another ship that close to explode, as well, and any combination of those two events throughout the swarm, but the specific quote provided by Valorum in his answer, where Spock references the disruption of coordination, suggests that collisions would be the main mechanism.

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    Which is fine, except that in the film you can clearly see individual ships exploding, not from collisions. – Valorum Oct 7 '16 at 13:49
  • @Valorum - just re-watched the scene, based on your statement. It doesn't show anything of the sort. The quotes in your answer confirm what I wrote in mine. – PoloHoleSet Oct 7 '16 at 13:57
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    To be clear, I'm not saying that we see tiny drones colliding and then exploding. We also don't see any in isolation spontaneously exploding. We just see the cascade of explosions as the Enterprise flies by. We don't see enough detail to see if there are collisions or not. I'm responding to the assertion that we see explosions specifically "not from collisions." – PoloHoleSet Oct 7 '16 at 14:18
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    Looking at it, I can see at least three instances where an "out of control" vessel simply explodes, one a few seconds after they initially turn on the music, another when they approach the "wave" and another less than a second after the Yorktown turns on their transmitters. – Valorum Oct 7 '16 at 14:30
  • That being said, the signal seems to result in the ships spontaneously coming apart as well as veering erratically. – Valorum Oct 7 '16 at 14:30
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Maybe they were flying a little too sideways when they got jammed

It didn't seem as though the drones tended to travel along a linear trajectory. Therefore, it seems reasonable to assume that they flew sideways into one another.

I've only seen the movie once, so I don't remember if they just suddenly exploded (which would make my answer worthless).

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    I love it! If everyone else is going to guess, why can't we guess something new?! Nice one. – Jerry Nixon - TOS Aug 9 '17 at 23:16

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