See NASA test a swarm of 100 US Navy Cicada drones

The tiny drones travel in packs to investigate the weather.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
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The drones come equipped with temperature, air pressure and wind-speed sensors.

Video screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET

Hives and Cicadas. It might sound like NASA is getting into entomology, but it's actually taking a new set of drones for a test run. 

NASA's Langley Research Center released a video last week showing four large drones (called Hives) releasing over 100 smaller drones known as Cicadas at the Beaver Dam Airpark in Virginia.

Cicada, developed by the US Naval Research Laboratory, stands for "Close-in Covert Autonomous Disposable Aircraft." You can nestle one of these small drones in the palm of your hand. 

"Cicada is a concept for a low-cost, GPS-guided, micro disposable air vehicle that can be deployed in large numbers to 'seed' an area with miniature electronic payloads," the Navy said

The Cicadas are mounted on the underside of a Hive drone and then released on demand with a mechanical switch.  

While the military is looking at how these small drones could be deployed in hostile territories, NASA is looking into their usefulness as tools for meteorologists.

The NASA-tested drones come equipped with temperature, air pressure and wind-speed sensors. The drones could one day be dropped through clouds or storm systems to gather detailed data during their descents. 

Langley Research Center declared the test a success. The Cicadas aren't the only dainty flying machines NASA is interested in. The space agency is also investigating Marsbees, robotic bees that could help rovers better explore Mars.

Swarming autonomous airborne drones may sound like something you'd see in a sci-fi apocalypse setting, but the Cicadas could one day be a silver lining in the clouds, giving us a valuable inside look at storm systems.

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