For several years now, the U.S. Naval Research Lab (NRL) has been developing its project dubbed the Close-In Covert Autonomous Disposable Aircraft (CICADA). Considering the program has been ongoing since 2006, the design has gone through numerous improvements and upgrades. Right now, the team has focused on two main areas—a stackable design and inexpensive assembly.
How does CICADA operate? Ideally, an aircraft will drop a swarm of small drones that will use GPS and onboard fins to glide down to the target location within a 15-foot radius. They’re meant to travel in packs, due to their small size and cost-effectiveness.
Even though they have a petite stature, the CICADA can carry certain electronic payloads.
According to NRL, “These payloads could be interconnected to form an ad-hoc, self-configuring network. Communication nodes, sensors, or effectors can then be placed in a programmable geometric pattern in hostile territory without directly over-flying those regions or exposing human agents on the ground.”
Coined as “essentially a flying circuit board,” the design is centered around—you guessed it—a printed circuit board. In addition, it features an autopilot system built to orient the aircraft after its chaotic initial deployment. The fuselage is 3D printed, and the team hopes to shift the drone’s entire production over to automation. Machine assembly will increase overall volume and further reduce cost.
Currently, the NRL is working on stackable microdrones with rounded wings, which unfortunately limits the possible glide distance. The latest stats forecast the CICADA drones at $250 each. As far as military hardware is concerned, that price is a bargain.
The NRL showcased the latest version of these drones at the 2017 Sea Air Space Expo.
Filed Under: Aerospace + defense