Drones have become an immensely powerful (and controversial) tool in and over the battlefield, but with limited flight times they can only watch over enemies for so long. Lately, the US Army has been exploring tethered versions that could help plug some holes in its military strategy, and has now placed an order with drone-maker CyPhy Works for a wired aerial vehicle that could provide an eye in the sky for days at a time.
We first heard of CyPhy Works and its Persistent Aerial Reconnaissance and Communications (PARC) system, the drone in question, in 2012. The design has evolved to now include six rotors instead of the original four, but its capabilities remain largely the same.
The system starts with a ground station that is connected to a power source, such as a generator, grid or vehicle. This hooks up to an autonomous hexacopter by way of a kevlar-strengthened microfilament, which provides the power needed for long endurance flights that can last for days at a time. The tether also serves as a communications link to pipe high-definition video gathered by the removable electro-optical-infrared camera back to the ground station. The drone can launch, hover and land autonomously and operate at an altitude of up to 400 ft (122 m).
The US military has flagged its interest in the potential of wired drones in the past. They might seem a little regressive, given the sophisticated technology that drives their untethered brethren, but the longer flight times on offer could prove extremely valuable to ground troops in need of a sustained aerial perspective. To this end, the US Navy has tested out an automated parafoil system that would hover above its vessels, while just a couple of months back it emerged the US military was testing out a tethered drone with 360-degree video capabilities.
"It's a tower-without-a-tower," says Matt England, CyPhy Works Vice President for Government Systems, of the PARC drone. "We made a system that can live where the Soldier lives; tough enough to match their environment, available where they need it, when they need it, and can fly for as long as they need it."
Source: CyPhy Works