Palm-size drones, called Close-in Covert Autonomous Disposable Aircraft, or CICADA, are under development at the U.S.Naval Research Laboratory.
The mini-drones, weighing just 2.3 ounces, use GPS guidance and micro-electro-mechanical, or MEMS, pressure sensors to stabilize itself and maneuver in flight. The tiny vehicles glide to earth after being released from canister fitted with a parachute and launched from a P-3 Orion surveillance aircraft.
The Navy wants a micro-glider that can be "placed in a programmable geometric pattern in hostile territory without directly over-flying those regions or exposing human agents on the ground," according to the research lab.
Up to 32 micro-gliders an fit in a canister and will configure themselves into network of sensors. The gliders descend slowly, collecting data as they fall towards the ground. When released as a programmed swarm, the data collected forms a collective web of information as the tiny gliders fall.
Earlier tests using balloons and fighter jets to launch the gliders from were successfully conducted last year. CICADA is part of an ongoing Pentagon effort to demonstrate and deploy "advance swarm behaviors" using micro- and mini-drones.