Flying COW (Cell on Wings) drones will be headed to provide cell service to Puerto Rico after being approved by the US Federal Aviation Administration, the FAA announced Thursday.
Developed by AT&T, the unmanned drones act like temporary cell towers, giving voice, data, and internet to those in the area. The drone, called the first of its kind by the FAA, flies up to 200 feet above ground and covers up to 40 square miles with cellular services.
SEE: Drone policy (Tech Pro Research)
The drones are temporary fixes as crews on the ground rebuild permanent infrastructure, the FAA said.
The COWs are Pulse Vapor 55 drones with LTE radios and antennas, according to the FAA. They're tethered to the ground, which provides fiber data and power. Since the drones exceed 55 lbs., the weight limit in the FAA's small drone rule, they required special authorization to be used in Puerto Rico.
The decision comes two months after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, leaving the US territory struggling to get power and cell service. Other projects from tech giants, like Alphabet's Project Loon and Tesla, have been working to bring cell service and power to the island.
The lack of cell service and internet access makes it nearly impossible for people in Puerto Rico to contact the Federal Emergency Management Agency or fill out online forms for help requests, ZDNet said. Increased access to data, voice, and text can help residents and rescue workers make more communications and potentially speed up recovery efforts.
SEE: Getting started with drone photography (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
AT&T's Flying COW drone gives an example of one way the enterprise drone market can expand to humanitarian efforts or be used in non-traditional ways. The US Department of Transportation announced Nov. 3 that it is starting a private-public drone program to find safe, innovative ways drones can be used across industries. A February Gartner report said consumer and commercial applications for drones are overlapping, which may lead to more tech giants sending their drones to provide cell service or use video cameras to spot survivors.
The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers
- The US FAA approved Flying COW (Cell on Wings) drones, which will be providing temporary cell service to hurricane-hit Puerto Rico as permanent infrastructure is rebuilt.
- Described as cell towers in the sky, the AT&T-designed drones can provide voice, data, and text to a 40 square mile range.
- Nearly two months after Hurricane Maria hit, the island still struggles to access power and cell service. The drones will give more access to residents and rescue workers, potentially speeding up recovery efforts.
- US DOT reveals drone safety program that could pave the way for business use of UAVs (TechRepublic)
- FAA approves Flying Cow drones to restore Puerto Rico cell network (ZDNet)
- Gallery: 10 ways technology is changing disaster response (TechRepublic)
- Google's Project Loon: Now AI can steer its 4G-beaming balloons to right part of sky (ZDNet)
- 'World's first' small UAV beams 4G signal as a 'flying cell tower' (TechRepublic)
Olivia Krauth is a Multiplatform Reporter at TechRepublic.