From the Battlefield to Tornado Alley: U.S. Military Creates Tiny Disposable Drone
CICADA drone

It looks like a cardboard plane with a circuit board attached. U.S. military scientists have created a toy sized drone that could have a variety of uses on the battlefield. An enemy submarine eluding you? This tiny drone can help detect it. Its small profile also makes it perfect for eavesdropping on enemy soldiers.

The drone is called the Close-in Covert Autonomous Disposable Aircraft or CICADA.

The drones uses aren’t limited to just the battlefield. In one flight test, the drones were outfitted with a variety of sensors that measured temperature, air pressure and humidity.

Imagine weather forecasters having these drones to help them better understand tornadoes. Since there disposable, you can just throw a group at a severe thunderstorm and not worry about what happens to them.

Don’t let the ‘disposable’ word trick you into thinking they are flimsy. These drones are far from it.

“They’ve flown through trees. They’ve hit asphalt runways. They have tumbled in gravel. They’ve had sand in them. They only thing that we found that killed them was desert shrubbery,” said Daniel Edwards, an aerospace engineer at the Naval Research Laboratory, according to Discovery News.

The drone prototype cost $1,000, but the scientists think this cost could come down to just $250/each.

The CICADA is nearly undetectable in flight

Besides being hard to see, the CICADA also lacks a propulsion system. Combine the two and the CICADA is incredibly hard to detect during flight.

The lack of propulsion does mean it needs another airborne platform to get to the desired altitude. This can be done several ways. In 2011 tests, scientists used a balloon to carry a separate UAV glider with two CICADAs attached to it.

CICADA balloon

Edwards says you can also throw them out of planes.

CICADA plane deployment

Artist depiction of CICADA deployment from C-130

Here are a few more details about the CICADA:

The CICADA Mark III is a unique vehicle. The airframe is simply a printed circuit board also serving as the autopilot, the first known multi-purpose airframe/avionics implementation of its kind. This novel construction method significantly reduces assembly time, minimizes wiring requirements, and enables the manufacture of low-cost and rugged micro air vehicles. The airframe shape is easily scaled to accommodate various payload sizes and potential acoustic, magnetic, chemical/biological and SIGINT sensors. Unique to this construction technique, additional electronic payloads can be inserted into the system by updating the printed circuit board artwork and ‘re-winging’ the aircraft.

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