US Naval Research Lab Tests Stackable CICADA Microdrones Swarm

2017-08-22

US Naval Research Lab Tests Stackable CICADA Microdrones Swarm
The U.S. Naval Research Lab has been working on its CICADA (Close-In Covert Autonomous Disposable Aircraft) drones since at least 2011. The tiny drones are designed to be carried aloft by other aircraft and dropped, whereupon they’ll use GPS and little fins to glide to within 15 feet of their destination.

They can carry a small sensor payload, and theyre designed to be cheap enough that you can use a whole bunch of them all at once. At the Sea Air Space Expo back in April, we checked out the latest MK5 CICADA prototypes, along with a new delivery system thatll launch 32 of them out of a standardized sonobuoy tube all at once.

Cicadas-swarm.png

The CICADA drones themselves consist mostly of a printed circuit board, which makes up the wings and also contains a custom autopilot system that can recover from the crazy tumbling that you can see when the CICADAs are initially deployed. A 3D-printed fuselage minimizes the amount of hands-on assembly time required, and the general idea is that eventually, these things will be created and assembled entirely by robots. This will drive the cost down while enabling volume production, exactly what you need if your goal is massive swarms of little robots.

The NRL has been through a bunch iterations on these things, and this particular version has been optimized for stackability and tube-ification with pleasingly rounded wings, although theres a tradeoff there with a reduction in the glide ratio. A big focus of CICADA has been lowering costs: These little guys cost about US $250 each, which is ridiculously cheap for a piece of military hardware. And that bug-sized price tag is what allows CICADAs to be considered disposable.

While its possible to push CICADAs out one or two at a time, the current use case is that all of them get launched at once, and then each will actively navigate toward its own set of GPS coordinates. On landing, they transmit data from embedded sensors (a meteorological payload at the moment) back up to their launch aircraft through an antenna embedded in their wings, and each robot will continue to operate and send back data from the ground until its battery runs out.

“With the CICADA MK5, we feel like most of the basic research is done,” NRLs Dan Edwards told us. The autopilot works, the guidance works, weve shown different launch methods. Really, were looking for a customer who wants to commercialize this. The point of NRL is to do high risk development, understand and steer where the technology is going, and then transition those pieces of IP out to industry for manufacturing.

Edwards said theyve considered a number of potential applications. And theyre always getting new suggestions. Every time I show up at a trade show, or talk with people about CICADA, its ‘oh, could you do this?, he said. Chemical and biological sensing is a very interesting idea. There are other electronics you could put in it for seismic sensing along a road. Really, the sky is the limit. Its just a flying circuit board, so anything you can integrate at the component level is fair game.

Theres one application, in particular, hed love to do.

Right now, [CICADAs] would be ready to go drop into a hurricane or tornado, he said. I really would love to fly an airplane over, and each of these could sample in the tornado. Thats ready now. Wed just need a ride. And [FAA] approval.





FAA Small Drone Rule Lets Unmanned Aircraft Soar

2017-09-11
FAA Small Drone Rule Lets Unmanned Aircraft Soar
A host of new users is changing the world of commercial aviation thanks in large part to the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) small unmanned aircraft rule, Part 107 (PDF), which has now been in place for a year.

The Drone World Expo 2017 Interviews  Hector Ubiñas

2017-08-22
The Drone World Expo 2017 Interviews Hector Ubiñas
In the third of a series of interviews with key figures involved in the success of Drone World Expo, we talked to for Hector Ubiñas, Aviation Services Manager, San Diego Gas and Electric. Hector joined SDG&E in September 2016 and has been overseeing the Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) program since starting with the company. In this role, Hector is responsible for the daily operations of the UAS program and continuing to develop new work methods for its application in the utility industry.

Swarms of Drones Test New Dogfighting Skills

2017-04-25
Swarms of Drones Test New Dogfighting Skills
Aerial dogfighting began more than a century ago in the skies over Europe with propeller-driven fighter aircraft carried aloft on wings of fabric and wood. An event held recently in southern California could mark the beginning of a new chapter in this form of aerial combat.

13 Takeaways from The White House Workshop

2016-08-08
13 Takeaways from The White House Workshop
The White House launched a new effort Tuesday to help increase the use of drones and showcased how government agencies have become a proving ground for a wide array of new drone concepts and technologies.

New Report: Drones in Public Safety and First Responder Operations

2016-07-24
New Report: Drones in Public Safety and First Responder Operations
It may not seem like it, but drones are still in their infancy and only proving themselves through the rigorous testing done privately, commercially, and by state and federal government agencies. Despite the tangible benefits that drones can provide, the public has mixed sentiments about their use by law enforcement, firefighting, and search & rescue operations.

Drone World Expo  Exclusive Interviews  Mark Bathrick

2016-07-14
Drone World Expo Exclusive Interviews Mark Bathrick
We wanted to find out more about the team behind Drone World Expo – what makes them tick, what motivates them and what are the secrets behind the success of the event. We interviewed Advisory Board member Mark L. Bathrick who directs a nationwide aviation services business for the U.S Department of the Interior (DOI) overseeing the safe operation of over 1,200 contracted and government-owned manned and unmanned aircraft across a wide range of business applications.

Rwanda Readies Life-Saving Drone Delivery System

2016-07-03
Rwanda Readies Life-Saving Drone Delivery System
This summer, small autonomous airplanes will begin carrying life-saving blood to 20 hospitals and healthcare centers across Western Rwanda, Africa, in one of the first-of-its-kind drone-based delivery demonstrations.

Tree-Planting Drones

2016-06-28
Tree-Planting Drones
Beaverton, Oregon-based drone startup DroneSeed created a drone with a device that fires seeds into the ground using compressed air in an effort to reforest the Pacific Northwest, and eventually forests around the world.

FAA Finalizes Rules for Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems

2016-06-21
FAA Finalizes Rules for Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems
Today, the Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration has finalized the firstoperational rules for routine commercial use of small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS or “drones”), opening pathways towards fully integrating UAS into the nations airspace. These new regulations work to harness new innovations safely, to spur job growth, advance critical scientific research and save lives.

Embry-Riddle Consumer Guide to sUAS for Novices

2016-06-17
Embry-Riddle Consumer Guide to sUAS for Novices
A research team at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Worldwide Campus has created the first-ever comprehensive consumer guide to small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) for novice users–those individuals interested in purchasing their first small remote controlled or autonomous multi-rotor flying aircraft.


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