Tethered drones solve battery problems at expense of mobility

Aug. 3, 2015

Traditional drones suffer from limited battery life, so why not plug them in?

“So-called tethered drones use ultrastrong-but-lightweight cables connected to the ground to provide power, a data link, and a physical restraint,” write Jack Nicas and Tarun Shukla in the Wall Street Journal. “That gives them distinct advantages over their free-flying cousins, including hours-long flight times, fast data transmission and an assurance that they won’t fly into an airliner.”

An extension cord might inhibit a drone’s ability to carry goods from an Amazon warehouse to your front porch. But tethered drones can work as surveillance tools for the military, as photojournalism tools for organizations like CNN, or as pop-up cellphone base stations.

Nicas and Shukla quote Helen Greiner, chief executive of tethered-drone maker CyPhy Works Inc. and co-creator of the Roomba, as saying, “It’s like having a near-Earth satellite. “Once you have an eye in the sky all the time, there are so many things you can do with it.”

CyPhy offers what it calls the Persistent Aerial Reconnaissance and Communications (PARC) system, which uses a patented microfilament system and a Ground Control Station (GCS). The PARC vehicle itself carries a gyro-stabilized, gimbal mounted, EO/IR camera payload with additional payload capacity for communications devices, the company says. The PARC vehicle can operate at altitudes of up to 500 feet above ground level.

The FAA isn’t completely sold on the tethered-drone concept. Nicas and Shukla report that the agency treats tethered drones the same as untethered ones.

About the Author

Rick Nelson | Contributing Editor

Rick is currently Contributing Technical Editor. He was Executive Editor for EE in 2011-2018. Previously he served on several publications, including EDN and Vision Systems Design, and has received awards for signed editorials from the American Society of Business Publication Editors. He began as a design engineer at General Electric and Litton Industries and earned a BSEE degree from Penn State.

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