A drone that is smaller than a human hand is being developed by the military to eavesdrop on enemy troops and locate submarines beneath the water. A version of that same drone will also be available for purchase commercially.
The GPS-guided drone, dubbed the Cicada, or Covert Autonomous Disposable Aircraft is just that. It’s designed to be dropped from a plane or a larger, unmanned drone. The Cicada drone then flies down to its target where it essentially crash lands and listens to the enemy. This new mini-drone doesn’t sound terribly sophisticated, but it actually will provide a leap forward in intelligence gathering.
Aaron Kahn, a flight controls engineer from the Naval Research Laboratory, talked about the idea behind the mini drone.
“The idea was why can’t we make UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) that have the same sort of profile. We will put so many out there, it will be impossible for the enemy to pick them all up.”
Currently, the drone costs about $1,000 to produce, but estimates say that the price could soon fall to less than $250. When the United States military spends billions of dollars yearly on national defense, it’s a sure bet that the Pentagon won’t bat an eyelash at spending a few million for several hundred-thousand mini Cicada drones.
When dropped from high in the sky, the Cicada drone glides down to Earth in a pattern that looks very much like a bird. When several are dropped at once, the group looks like a flock of birds heading towards the ground and are practically impossible to pick up via radar or even at long distances with the naked eye.
Tests were done on Cicada drone prototypes in Arizona in 2011. Flying, or rather gliding, the drones sail down through the air towards the earth at about 47 miles per hour. The drones were dropped from over 57,000 feet, and they managed to land within 9 feet of their intended target.
According to Daniel Edwards, an aerospace engineer at the Naval Research Laboratory, the drones are extremely durable.
“They are robotic carrier pigeons. You tell them where to go, and they will go there. 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.”
As to how the Cicada drones would be used, Edwards elaborated.
“You equip these with a microphone or a seismic detector, drop them on that road, and it will tell you ‘I heard a truck or a car travel along that road. You know how fast and which direction they’re traveling.”
[Image via Defense Update]