AI News, Naval Research Lab Tests Swarm of Stackable CICADA Microdrones

Naval Research Lab Tests Swarm of Stackable CICADA Microdrones

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.

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.

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 there’s a tradeoff there with a reduction in the glide ratio.

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.

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 saidthey’ve considered a number ofpotential applications.

Dropping off microdrones, at low cost and easily stacked

'Essentially a flying circuit board, CICADA has an extremely high packing factor and a very low per-unit cost,' according to the USNRL.

CICADA is a concept for a low-cost, GPS-guided, micro disposable air vehicle that can be deployed in large numbers to 'seed' an area with miniature electronic payloads.

IEEE Spectrum: '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.'

Ackerman noted that the tiny drones are designed to be carried by other aircraft and dropped, they use GPS and little fins to glide to within 15 feet of their destination.'

Each CICADA MK5 weighs only 65 grams, and descends at 1,000 feet per minute with a glide ratio of ~3.5, so the higher you launch them from, the farther they'll go, said IEEE Spectrum.

Miniature UAV

A miniature UAV or small UAV (SUAV)[1] is an unmanned aerial vehicle small enough to be man-portable.

Miniature UAVs range from micro air vehicles (MAVs) that can be carried by an infantryman, to man-portable UAVs that can be carried and launched like an infantry man-portable air-defense system.

SUAVs have been given various definitions among national regulation authorities, often without including size precisions and differing about weight measurement specifications.

A downed pilot could use it to keep track of enemy search parties, or as airborne radio relays to search and rescue units.

This phase-one DARPA study ended in 2001, and was followed by a phase-two study that focused on particular vendors with an intent to develop MAVs closer to operational specification.

production device was envisioned as a centrifugal-flow engine about two centimeters across burning natural gas, with a single turbine disk for compression and a single disk for exhaust rotation.

The design didn't look much like a conventional turbojet, resembling more a tiny flat cylindrical box with an inlet hole on one side and an exhaust hole on the other.

It was expected to have a thrust-to-weight ratio of about 100—incredible compared to any 'macroscale' engine but a logical consequence of scaling the technology down in size—and run at about 1.2 million RPM, making bearings a tricky issue.

Other tricky issues were control systems, since an MAV couldn't be flown like a model airplane and would have to be able to tolerate turbulence and wind gusts, and miniaturizing navigation, communications, and sensor systems, as well as ensuring that they didn't interfere with each other.

As extreme as MAV specifications were, a team under Ilan Kroo at Stanford University worked on an even more extreme design in the form of a centimeter-wide four-rotor mesicopter using microcircuit fabrication techniques.

Design of such a small aircraft was constrained by the fact that at such scales, the air becomes a highly viscous medium, or in aerodynamic terms a mesicopter had a low Reynolds number.

The research led to mesicopter rotor designs where the rotor looked much more like the blades of an ordinary room fan than the rotor of a conventional helicopter.

The DARPA MAV effort ended in 2000 and the results of the effort were somewhat negative, demonstrating that a 15 centimeter UAV was simply too small to be useful or even workable, at least over the short run.

It was revived as OAV-2 in 2004, with DARPA specifying a diesel-powered ducted-fan vertical-takeoff UAV with a weight of 51 kilograms (112 pounds), including a payload of 10 kilograms;

The UAV would have autonomous flight capabilities with the ability to maneuver in cluttered terrain using an all-weather obstacle-avoidance system, and DARPA wanted it to have the ability to land and conduct observations from its landing site.

In the spring of 2003, AeroVironment performed the first flight of the Hornet, which is similar to the Wasp but has a straight rectangular wing with a slightly greater span of 38 centimeters (15 inches) and, more significantly, is powered by fuel cells.

The fuel cells are built into the top of the wing, where they combine oxygen in the ambient air with hydrogen produced internally by the MAV through reaction of a hydride material with water.

The fuel cell system is expected to provide three times the endurance of batteries of comparable weight, though early flights were limited by the tendency of the fuel cells to dry out.

DARPA is actually more interested in the battery powered Wasp, but other interested parties in the US defense establishment, particularly the NRL, are very intrigued by fuel cells, and so DARPA is hedging its bets.

It was a fixed-wing, propeller-driven aircraft 25 centimeters (9.84 inches) long and was powered by miniature fuel cells that gave it an endurance of about 20 minutes.

The DGA envisions an operational MAV as about 40 centimeters (16 inches) long, with a weight of less than 1.5 kilograms (3.3 pounds), an endurance of 15 minutes or more, a ceiling of 100 meters (330 feet) and an operating radius of a kilometer (0.6 mile).

MAVs have attracted a hobbyist and amateur community, similar to the robot combat competitions sometimes shown on television, and yearly competitive events have been conducted.

The WASP drone had a flight endurance of fifteen minutes, including ten minutes of powered flight and five minutes of glide.

It had a tiny camera in its lower fuselage, and relayed both imagery and its own current GPS coordinates back to the warship or artillery battery that fired it.

SilentEyes looked like a simple metal cylinder with a rounded cap, straight folding wings mounted in the middle of the UAV and with a noticeable dihedral, and a folding inverted-vee tail.

The baseline version of the SilentEyes would be strictly a glider, but its glide ratio of 11:1 would allow it to stay in the air for a half-hour if released from typical Predator operational altitudes.

The MALP has large cruciform tailfins, small cruciform nosefins, and 'switchblade' wings stowed back along the fuselage that pop out straight when the UAV is released.

Reports of the range of the version used by the Army vary however, with reported ranges including 5+ kilometers, 12 kilometers and 40 kilometers.[8] The Interspect UAS B 3.1 is a remote sensing platform for 3D photogrammetric purposes.

Weighing just 1.3 kg, it features onboard intelligence, all-digital communications and a map-based touch-screen control which enables new users to operate the vehicles with only minutes of training.

The Skate SUAS is a man portable unmanned system designed for the tactical user (military, police etc.) but also useful for other applications where portability and operation from constrained environments are critical.

European EADS organization is developing a small UAV named the Tracker, which features a wide-span wing, twin booms for payload and so on, and a central pod with tractor and puller propellers.

Both of these UAVs have a launch weight of about 5.5 kilograms (12 pounds), a speed of from 35 to 70 km/h (20 to 40 knots), and can carry either a color daylight imager or an infrared imager.

All the UAVs are designed for civil applications (civil reconnaissance, civil security, mapping, survey and monitoring, digital elevation model, photography in general etc.)[9] and can make still aerial images and full HD or real-time videos.

The UAS have an advanced navigation system and an autopilot which enable the aircraft to fly with the range of 5 km and a flight endurance from 30 to 45 minutes.

It is made mostly of plastic foam, suggesting something like a Nerf toy, and uses an electric motor driving a pusher propeller as a powerplant, making it very quiet.

However, in 2007, the US Air Force FPASS office switched all of their UAV systems over to the RQ-11 Raven B.[11] Desert Hawk did make the short-list for the recent Netherlands Army Mini-UAV program, but ultimately lost to the RQ-11B Raven B.[12] The only military forces still using Desert Hawk are the UK Army.[13] The SIRIUS UAS is a completely autonomous small airplane with a wingspan of two meters.[14] The UAV combined with the image post processing software enables one to simply obtain aerial images and calculate orthofotos and three dimensional elevation models out of the image data.

The Finder (Flight Inserted Detector Expandable for Reconnaissance), with a weight of 26 kilograms (57 pounds), can carry a small imager, or an atmospheric sampling sensor to check for radiological / chemical / biological contaminants, and other sensor payloads are being considered.

In October 2008, Rafael announced that a SkyLite B had achieved an altitude of 36,000 feet (11,000 m).[15] The SkyLite has a certain general resemblance to the Raytheon SilentEyes, being a tube a 110 centimeters (3 feet 7 inches) long with a glass sensor nose;

The UAV carries EO equipment weighing up to 1 kg which may include gyro-stabilized down-looking video camera, 10 MPix photo camera or infrared camera.

The UAV is powered by electric motor driving a small propeller in the nose, with rechargeable batteries permitting an hour of continuous flight at the range of 40 km.

The range of application is rather wide, including monitoring of emergencies and natural disasters, remote monitoring of fuel and energy complex, patrolling of land and sea borders, industrial and environmental monitoring, and protection of security-critical facilities.

Both the Shadow Ranger and slightly larger Eco Ranger have electric motors, gyro stabilized daytime and thermal video cameras (with retractable gimbal option), kevlar and composite structures and 60–120 minutes endurance (longer endurance is available for Eco Ranger with optional gas powered engines).

Baykar Machine Inc.'s (Turkey) Bayraktar Mini UAV system with 1.2 m length and 2 m wing span body, operational since 2007 with Turkish Armed Forces, can be hand launched and land on its body or through a parachute deployment.

It has advanced guidance and control system such that in lost communication condition it can return to its base, turn off its engine, deploy its parachute and land in full automatic fashion.

It can fly under GPS-denied environments with its mems based inertial navigation system, has automatic spin recover function, automatic stall control and advanced battery management system.

Avian UAS is a complete unmanned aircraft system customized for various kind of missions depending on the installed payloads, such as real time surveillance, reconnaissance, aerial mapping, aerial photography and et cetera.

It can be operated in complete autonomous mode, or simply using the gamepad to control the heading of the Avian UAV.[18] High wing electric powered, 1.4m wingspan the Voyager is a conventional pusher airframe with a maximum AUW of 3.5 kg with a wide CG range useful for different payload configurations.

In 2010, the company introduced a novel UAV that can fly diverse pre-programmed missions using only the simplest mission selector and a single takeoff button.

The UAV features automatic takeoff and parachute landing, allowing reduction of workload and reducing configuration mistakes, identified as a major hazard in day-to-day civilian photomapping operations.

By David While it is increasingly implementing 3D printing technology into production of its large-scale jets and ships, the U.S Navy has also been furthering its advances into drone technology, and the latest breakthrough must be one of the smallest aircraft it has ever developed.

The latest delivery system that has been developed for the Mk5 is capable of releasing 32 of the drones simultaneously, and 18 Mk5 drones can be packed together inside a single cube.

This allows for communication nodes, sensors, or effectors to be placed in a programmable geometric pattern in hostile territory without directly flying over those regions or exposing any human agents on the ground.

According to the NRL’s Dan Edwards, these CICADA drones are always popular with military and tech enthusiasts, and they have a huge range of potential applications beyond their current use: “Every time I show up at a trade show, or talk with people about CICADA, it’s ‘oh, could you do this?’ ” he said.“Chemical and biological sensing is a very interesting idea.

It’s just a flying circuit board, so anything you can integrate at the component level is fair game...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.

The U.S. Navy reveals robot cicadas that could soon be dropped in swarms over hurricanes and other natural disasters to monitor conditions

The Naval Research Lab has been working on the technology in various ways since 2011, but the focus of this specific iteration - MK5 - is a shape that would allow them to be stackable.  Scroll for video  The CICADAs are meant to be dropped from an aircraft and use GPS and little 'fins' to break off and individually fly within 15 feet of coordinates specified for each.

'The autopilot works, the guidance works, we've shown different launch methods.' 'Really, we're 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.' The research lab is constantly getting new suggestions and evolving its CICADAs.

For example, its enlisting the help of seals - but not the kind of highly trained special operatives with whom it usually associates - believing their whiskers, may be the key to a new way for ships and underwater vehicles to sense their environment.  It's also working on a railgun prototype dubbed 'Star Wars technology' by researchers that can fire projectiles at six times the speed of sound.  In 2012, it came out with Octavia, a firefighting robot that looked like an evil doll.