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.

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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.





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.

DroneDeploy Users Map 3,000,000 Acres

2016-06-09
DroneDeploy Users Map 3,000,000 Acres
At the Drones Data X Conference in San Francisco, Mike Winn, co-founder and CEO of DroneDeploy, announced in his keynote that our users had achieved a new industry milestone: 3,000,000 drone mapped acres across 120 countries.

Companies Team for UAS Inspection of Wind Turbines

2016-06-01
Companies Team for UAS Inspection of Wind Turbines
Two companies involved in aerial wind inspection services, HUVRdata, based in Austin, TX and EdgeData based in Grand Forks, ND, announced a collaboration to deliver a suite of wind industry data intelligence tools and credential processes to optimize the use of this technology within the wind industry.

DARPA Demo Day at the Pentagon

2016-05-15
DARPA Demo Day at the Pentagon
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency yesterday hosted DARPA Demo Day 2016 at the Pentagon, giving the Defense Department community an up-close look at the agency’s portfolio of innovative technologies and military systems.

FAA Enables Section 333 UAS Registration Online

2016-04-25
FAA Enables Section 333 UAS Registration Online
What’s not to like about an automated government system thats faster, simpler and more user-friendly than the paper-based system it supplements?

Europe Wants UAS for Migrant Route Surveillance

2016-04-19
Europe Wants UAS for Migrant Route Surveillance
EU border patrol agency Frontex announced Friday that it is in talks with industry for using remotely piloted aircraft for maritime surveillance, adding drones to its existing portfolio of satellite and sensor technologies for monitoring vessel traffic and migrant flows.

AUVSI Study of FAA Exemptions Published

2016-04-17
AUVSI Study of FAA Exemptions Published
The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) has released an interactive analysis that finds 38 types of business operations have been approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to fly unmanned aircraft systems commercially in the National Airspace System (NAS). According to the report that analyzed more than 3,000 FAA exemptions, aerial photography received the most, followed by real estate and aerial inspection. The report also finds that exemptions have been approved in all 50 states and Puerto Rico.

Senate Bill Calls for Certification of Unmanned Aircraft

2016-03-26
Senate Bill Calls for Certification of Unmanned Aircraft
The Senate’s version of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2016 has finally made it out of committee, and it contains 65 pages of requirements for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). Some of these provisions go to the heart of the Federal Aviation Administrations (FAA) philosophy for dealing with unmanned aircraft. If enacted, the legislation could have a profound impact on the development of this industry.

Antimatter Space Propulsion Possible within a Decade

2016-03-15
Antimatter Space Propulsion Possible within a Decade
Dreams of antimatter space propulsion are closer to reality than most rocket scientists could ever imagine, says former Fermilab physicist Gerald Jackson. In fact, if money were no object, he says an antimatter-driven spacecraft prototype could be tested within a decade. To that end, next month, Jackson and his Chicago-based Hbar Technologies firm are launching a $200,000 Kickstarter campaign to crowdfund the next phase of its antimatter propulsion research.

FAA Announces Effort to Expand the Safe Integration of Unmanned Aircraft

2016-02-28
FAA Announces Effort to Expand the Safe Integration of Unmanned Aircraft
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is establishing an aviation rulemaking committee (PDF)with industry stakeholders to develop recommendations for a regulatory framework that would allow certain UAS to be operated over people who are not directly involved in the operation of the aircraft.


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