It's no coincidence that some of the most advanced drones to date are being created by CyPhy Works.
The CEO, Helen Greiner, has a history of starting groundbreaking companies. In 1990, she co-founded iRobot, now famous for the Roomba, as well as other small robots. But her interest began long before that—as a kid, Greiner was inspired by R2-D2, the Star Wars droid with a personality. Since then, she's "always wanted to build robots that are more than machines."
She left iRobot and started CyPhy Works, a company for creating unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), in 2008. And while there are dozens of drone manufacturers springing up, one of CyPhy Works's models, the Persistent Aerial Reconnaissance and Communications, (PARC), has a unique feature: a tether.
The 400-foot tether connects UAVs to a control base with a fishing line-like microfilament they call "superfine." The company says the line is "impervious to jamming and unaffected by water, power lines, and other possible interferences."
And while the concept of the tether may seem counterintuitive, limiting the motion and reach of a drone, there are a few important benefits:
- Continuous power. Unlike other drones, this one has unlimited power and can stay afloat for hours on end, which is critical in cases of security or military use.
- Fast data transfer. Since PARC doesn't rely on a wireless connection, data passed through the tether is reliable, consistent, and high-speed.
- Secure communication. The tether connects directly to the UAV's Ground Control Station (GCS), which means that information can't be intercepted. (The Army's Red Team already tried-and failed-to hack it).
Greiner expects that PARC, what she calls a "persistent" drone, will have important military-it's already certified-and security applications. "From a combat outpost to a construction site, to a farm, to a mine, you can have eyes on the whole process, all the time." Especially in the military, the constant surveillance is critical. "Whether it's monitoring a facility, covering a sporting event, or giving a live feed from a hostage situation, you know where everybody is."
Drones can solve problems robots can't, said Greiner. "When you go a little bit higher, above the treetops, above buildings, above the telephone wires, it's pretty much free space, like a highway."
"Even R2-D2 had jet packs to get around," said Greiner. "He couldn't do stairs."
The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers
- Drones are poised to radically transform our ability to surveil.
- PARC's tether can have it in-air indefinitely-a huge help when it comes to monitoring any kind of activity.
- Cybersecurity is a major issue for all kinds of autonomous vehicles, and CyPhy Works's tethered drone allows for a safe connection and transfer of information.
- UPDATED: FAA's drone regulations: Answers to common questions (TechRepublic)
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- US Department of Transportation assembling task force for drone registration (ZDNet)
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Hope Reese has nothing to disclose. She doesn't hold investments in the technology companies she covers.
Hope Reese is a journalist in Louisville, KY. Her writing has been featured in The Atlantic, The Boston Globe, The Chicago Tribune, Playboy, Undark Magazine, VICE, Vox, and other publications.