New swarm drone ‘bombs’ will be so numerous they will be impossible to stop

19 May 2015

Image of Cicada drone via AFP

Using the cicada insect as its template, US military scientists have created a palm-size drone of the same name that they say will be so small and numerous that an enemy simply couldn’t stop them.

The small, yellow drone that looks like a paper airplane is not designed to engage in combat but will provide a rather comprehensive view of a battlefield or target area.

According to Defense News, the Covert Autonomous Disposable Aircraft (Cicada) is arguably the cheapest military drone that has been developed, with the eventual unit cost expected to be somewhere in the region of US$250, down from US$1,000 for the current prototype.

Cheap, accurate and silent

Aiding in its disposable and cheap nature, the Cicada only consists of 10 parts and from testing was capable of being dropped from a height of 17,500m in the sky and flying downwards and landing just 4.5m from its intended target.

No doubt raising fears over the potential for this type of swarm drone technology, Aaron Kahn of the Naval Research Laboratory said in an interview of the drone’s durability: “We will put so many out there, it will be impossible for the enemy to pick them all up.”

However, the Cicada is more of a drone bomb in that it has no propulsion of its own and rather glides, down taking dozens of pictures of its target travelling at a top speed of 74km/h all while being totally silent.

Concept image of Cicada drone launch

Illustration via AFP

Cicada drones almost indestructible

As well as taking photos, the on-board computer is being looked at to provide local weather data, as well as equipping it with a microphone and seismic detector to monitor traffic behind enemy lines over a limited time period.

“They’ve flown through trees. They’ve hit asphalt runways. They have tumbled in gravel. They’ve had sand in them. The only thing that we found that killed them was desert shrubbery,” said Daniel Edwards, aerospace engineer at the US Navy’s research laboratory.

He went on to say that people from many fields, both military and civilian, are interested in the Cicada: “Everyone is interested. Everyone.”

In the meantime, here’s the terrifying sound of a swarm of cicada insects, which are a lot louder than the Cicada swarm drones will be.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic