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UNMANNED SYSTEMS UPDATE

02 Jan 12. The U.S. Navy Research Lab’s Tempest Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) may not be the mother of all drones, but it is the mother of two drones, at least. Hoisted up to 53,000 feet onto a high-flying trajectory via releasable balloon, the Tempest UAV “gives birth” in flight, launching a pair of mini “Cicada” drones. The tiny Cicadas are an exercise in efficiency, with their logic boards doubling as wings. The Cicada UAVs are gliders, complete with smartphone-like two-axis gyroscopes and GPS circuits for navigation. Several variants have been produced. The Cicada Mark I can be launched by firing it from a gun into the air. The Cicada Mark III is designed with special wings for improved range and stability, and is the model used by Tempest “mothership”. Cicada stands for Close-In Covert Autonomous Disposable Aircraft. The Tempest first floats up to high altitudes via balloon, then launches as a glider. The drone reportedly has a custom algorithm that accurately estimates wind speed and magnitude without any purpose driven sensors (presumably the algorithm is based on drift from the expected navigation path. A Cicada launched from an altitude of 18,000 feet was able to travel 11 miles, landing within 15 feet of its desired target, a remarkable feat. The drone has been hardened to endure winds up to 40 knots. Lithium ion batteries — the same kind you could find in your smart phone — power the drone. The high-altitude versions have heaters to prevent the frigid temperatures of the upper atmosphere from harming the circuit board. (Source: UNMANNED)

27 Dec 11. A backpack-size kamikaze drone ordered into combat by the U.S. Army could also soon become an aerial scout for U.S. Navy submarines hidden beneath the waves. Launching a flying robot from underwater utilizes a sneaky tactic — using a tube that normally ejects trash from a submarine. The Navy wants the “Switchblade” drone designed by AeroVironment to become a flying scout capable of spotting enemy ships over the horizon, even as the “mother” submarine remains hidden underwater. Its upcoming submarine launch test would coincide with the world’s biggest naval war games in 2012, according to a new contract awarded to U.S. defense firm Raytheon. Previous tests by Raytheon in 2008 showed how submerged launch vehicles can float to the surface and launch flying drones such as the Switchblade. But those demonstrations only involved surface ships and dummy drones. The planned submarine launch would use the trash-disposal unit — the tube that typically ejects the trash of submarine crews — rather than one of several torpedo tubes designed to fire at enemy ships or submarines. Such a launch would take place with the submarine running just beneath the waves at periscope depth. (Source: UNMANNED)

03 Jan 12. In January, the FAA is expected to issue new air space regulations allowing for the civilian use of unmanned aerial vehicles. Police departments are expected to be early and widespread users of the drones, but some are raising concerns about privacy. (Source: UNMANNED)

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