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U.S. Navy develops swarms of mini Cicada drones to spy on enemies

Tue 19 May 2015

The U.S. Navy has unveiled its latest Cicada drone – a smaller model of the smart glider which military scientists have been developing for almost ten years.

The tiny autonomous machine was presented last week at the Department of Defense’s Lab Day. The newest iteration of the Cicada, a yellow angular unit with two semi-circular wings, is the smallest and most low-cost yet and is able to fit in the palm of a hand.


Cicadas or Covert Autonomous Disposable Aircraft, developed by the Naval Research Laboratory, are designed to be disposable and to work together emulating the insects’ swarm flight patterns.

“The idea was why can’t we make UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) that have the same sort of profile,” said Aaron Kahn of the Naval Research Laboratory team.

The lightweight gliders are packed with sensors to monitor and feedback data on the weather, temperature, humidity and air pressure. They also offer the option to house microphones or vibration sensors to spy on enemy communications and to detect chemical weapons.

“We will put so many out there, it will be impossible for the enemy to pick them all up,” said Kahn.

The Cicada drones do not contain an engine, motors or propellers. Instead the bots soar silently through the air for up to 46 miles tracing pre-programmed GPS coordinates after being thrown from an aircraft, balloon or larger drone.

In preliminary tests in 2011, the researchers found that the robots were extremely hardy and were able to survive hard landings on asphalt tracks and gravel runways.

The prototype is thought to have cost the Navy around $1,000 (approx. £700) to create. The department suggested that the Cicada drone would cost no more than $250 per unit to mass produce.

In addition to military uses the research team has suggested using Cicadas to support meteorological research, such as storm tracking and weather forecasting, as well as traffic monitoring.


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