The US military wants a drone that weighs less than a slice of bread


The US military wants a small drone for its infantry squadrons.

How small? This drone will weigh less than 25 grams – less than a slice of bread. It must carry a payload of less than 5 grams – or less than a teaspoon of sugar.

The military is trying to square the circle: drones should ideally have range and stamina, which tends to lead to bigger machines that can meet size, weight, power and cost requirements (SWaP- VS). On the other hand, the RQ-11 Raven – a small drone used throughout the US military – still weighs over 4 pounds. The heavier the drone, the less a squad can carry, which is particularly a problem for dismounted troops.

“In the space below 150 grams, there are few or no options that meet all of the soldier’s needs and come at a substantial cost,” according to the Army’s Research Solicitation. “Clearly, a breakthrough innovation is needed to integrate additional capabilities into a lower SWAP-C cell. “

The Army is looking for a drone with a flight time of 20 to 40 knots, and powerful enough to fly in sustained winds of 15 knots as well as gusts of 20 to 30 knots. It must also fly silently to avoid detection, must be able to carry a radio (sold separately) with a range of up to 1,500 meters (0.9 miles), and must be easy to use and relatively inexpensive. to manufacture.

“The desired end state is a UAS providing SA / SU [situational awareness/situational understanding] squad or first responder with little or no cognitive load and user input, ”the military said.

“That is to say, the soldier must not be withdrawn from combat (head held high, hand on the weapon) and the system must be fully integrated with the rest of his equipment and his network. Squad-level SA could then be propagated to higher echelons as needed. This allows the individual team to know what’s on the next turn or over the next hill, help build and clear roads, and provide real-time local intelligence that saves lives. .

On top of all that, the military wants a plethora of features packed into a tiny cell. “Desirable features include threat detection and tracking; cursor on target; GPS and operations refused by GPS; possibility of integration with ATAK / Nett Warrior [Android Tactical Assault Kit] and adaptive squad architecture; obstacle avoidance; and return home denied by GPS, ”the search solicitation said.

Yet the military also realizes that this may not be technically feasible. “Some or all of these features are probably beyond the scope of this effort, but the cell must include the appropriate hardware (eg, processors, memory) to allow functionality to be implemented without hardware modification of the UAS.” [unmanned aerial system.]. “

Phase I of the project requires conceptual design, followed by a Phase II prototype that will fly.

It is an ambitious project. Insect-sized drones weighing less than 10 grams can be purchased on Amazon

, and tiny cameras and radios already exist. But putting a camera and radio on a small drone, along with features like GPS and obstacle avoidance sensors – all the while making these little drones so affordable an infantry squad can afford. to spend them in combat – is a tall order.

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