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Last March, NASA has demonstrated the flight of the CICADA drones. The CICADA drones are small, low cost drones that are released from a larger “mothership” drone, called the Hive.

The CICADA stands for Close-In Covert Autonomous Disposable Aircraft. These tiny drones are fitted with several sensors, allowing for the measurement of weather patterns. The idea is to release a swarm of CICADAs into a cloud or storm system in order to obtain the most accurate meteorological reading possible. reports that research for the CICADAs originally dates back to 2006, with a few prototypes being displayed in 2011 and 2015. The United States Naval Research Laboratory has originally funded the research, in an attempt to develop a sensor system that is disposable and low cost.  

The CICADAs are more gliders than they are aircraft. Guided by inertial measurement sensors and GPS, the motorless drones fall from their mothership and steer using flaps. The CICADAs are rackable and stackable, therefore making it easy to release a swarm of drones at once.

When the drones reach the ground, their flaps will continuously move up and down, making a “chirping” noise which can assist in gathering the scattered drones from the ground.

The Navy has managed to get the price of an individual CICADA down to $250 each, so being able to recover these drones is more of an extra benefit, considering the CICADAs are intended to be disposable.

The CICADA concept is not limited only to meteorological sensors. In the future, the system can also have chemical sensors installed, thus granting first responders and military personnel the knowledge if a certain area is hazardous.

Similarly, the CICADAs could be fitted with a microphone in the future, that can pick up loud noises, such as engines, explosions, and gunfire.

Below you can watch NASA testing the CICADA system with its mothership drone.