U.S. Navy Starts Delivering Drones Using Balloons and Submarines

Need to sneak your UAV in under or over the radar? Try using subs or balloons like the Navy does

2 min read
U.S. Navy Starts Delivering Drones Using Balloons and Submarines

A few years ago when we visited AUVSI, the big conference organized by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, we took a look at some of the vaguely nutty ways that UAVs are landed. Launching is generally more straightforward, unless you need to be stealthy about it, which is why the U.S. Navy is looking to submerged submarines and high-altitude balloons to deliver drones.

Drones launched from subs is a fairly obvious good idea for over-the-horizon reconnaissance, but making it happen is tricky. Drones tend to be small, relatively fragile little things that don't react well to being dumped out of a submarine into the ocean, so Raytheon had to get clever. They've developed a canister that can be flushed out of a sub's trash disposal unit of all places, and inside is a UAV, all snug and warm and dry. The canister gradually floats to the surface, orients itself, and the UAV gets ejected up and out and goes on its merry way. The UAV inside the canister is AeroVironment's Switchblade, which, with its small size and nifty folding wings, is perfect for the job.

So that's one way of stealthily deploying a drone, but an even wilder way is 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.

[ NRL ] via [ AviationWeek ]

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The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof

In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

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