3D Robotics

Balloon-launched and disposable UAVs


Another good article from IEEE Spectrum. I'm particularly interested in the disposable glider drone at the bottom, which is basically just a PCB with wings. (Because this comes from the research arm of the Navy, and is of broad technical interest to this community, I am make a sysadmin exemption to our no-military rule. I don't do it often.


Here's a wild way to launch UAVs: by using a high-altitude weather balloon with a drone stapled to it, with drones stapled to it. Nope, that's not a typo: The Naval Research Laboratory has been using weather balloons to carry a medium-sized Tempest UAV up to 60,000 feet, and the Tempest UAV itself is carrying a pair of tiny little CICADA (Close-In Covert Autonomous Disposable Aircraft ) drones underneath its wings. Look:

The Tempest can travel up to 30 miles and deploy the CICADAs as gliders, which can then land within 15 feet of their target coordinates. Each CICADA can carry a variety of sensor payloads, and as the name implies, they're designed to be cheap and disposable: The airframe is actually just a custom printed circuit board.

This balloon launch multi-drone thing in particular is very cool, since whatever you attach to the balloon can use its engine purely for range as opposed to altitude. And dropping off these little microdrones to get in and do the dirty work saves a bunch of money and adds that much more versatility to the entire system.

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  • @Bosak, where did you obtain the 50% statistics? Please send me the article.

    1. Bill Gates in 80s used to call LANs as PCs connected to each other USELESS, what we learned from such dingbat executive statements is not to set any low limitation bar on our imaginations.

    2. What singles out this community from all others, is that they have set no low bars on imagination. I remember were the UAV status was a mere 3 years ago and look at what is achieved here. 

    So my experience tells me to leave the innovators to do innovations and usually the one innovation most people called useless becomes the killer app. 


  • T3

    @Dara except at this size it will deploy unreliably 50% of the time.

    There is a thin line between engineers building disposable and useless solutions.

  • Hello Chris

    This is a REAL killer app and I am thankful that you posted this. I am interested in gps guided parachute version i.e. in stead of the plane or wing the flying part is a parachute which has gps onboard.


  • T3

    The real problem is that if it is disposable, then somebody 'doesn't cares' about sensor quality, which are already way more costly than the glider and a bag of UAVs portrayed.

    Now what could be done with cheap sensors, cheap or no modem etc that couldn't be delivered using ground vehicle, that have limited range and low quality data feedback? Basically only kaboom applications come to mind. It's cool they are having fun with promising military research without hurting themselves.

  • Vehicle cost/km traveled it's hard to compete with a balloon launched sailplane.

  • Some colleagues of mine attempted a similar project in college with a glider. Chris did a post about it in 2007.


  • Disposable UAV is music to 3DRobotic's ears.

  • It's my understanding that this sort of thing isn't permissible without a Certificate of Authorization from the FAA (and good luck getting one). That's unfortunate as this sort of thing is interesting and very doable on an amateur budget.

  • I guess for civilian use, we might need to understand regulatory framework around this ...
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