Digital Trends Live: CyPhy Works Laura Major talks advances in tethered drones

Tethered drones have been used to help the U.S. Secret Service provide security for the president, deliver packages, and even supply internet access to crowded stadiums. Today on Digital Trends Live, we talked with Laura Major, chief technology officer for CyPhy Works and an expert on tethered drones.

According to Major, CyPhy Works is the pioneer in tethered drones, which she describes as having “a cable, a very small thin cable, kind of like a headphone cable, that connects the drone to a ground station, and that provides continuous power to the drone.”

So, unlike untethered drones, which have a battery life of 30 minutes, a tethered drone can stay in the air continuously for days. Major said CyPhy Works’ longest flight was 200 hours.

“All of the communication happens through the tether as well, the command in control of the vehicle and the video down from the vehicle comes through the tether, so it’s immune to any type of interception,” Major said.

The drones can go up to 400 feet, in compliance with the Federal Aviation Administration regulations, though their tether length is a little longer to deal with winds. They are four feet in diameter and can hold up to six pounds, whether that be a camera or a radio. They have many applications and an important one is security.

“If you want to be able to monitor an area for a period of time, but you don’t have a tower or another location where you can put a camera, you can just have our drone there. … We recently supported the Boston Marathon for instance, where the emergency management response wanted to be able to monitor the crowd flow,” Major said.

The drones also have the capability to launch an antenna to create a communication network or ad-hoc communication network on the fly, which Major says is perfect for emergencies.

“In a disaster situation … where all your infrastructure is wiped out, … you can bring it in a park and launch it and have it stand up a communication infrastructure immediately,” she said.

In the case of a fire, for example, the drone can be released and find the source of the fire quickly.

CyPhy Works’ drones are also fully autonomous. “The operator just sets the altitude and hits go, and it goes up and holds position and stays there without any operator input,” Major said.

As for the future of tethered drones, Major wants to support mobile systems. CyPhy is also looking at introducing artificial intelligence to its drones.

“We are looking at adding in perception, fusing across many different sensors on board, being able to have many autonomous behaviors,” Major said. “Taking it to the next level so you can now detect areas of interest and your flight path based on that information.”

To find out more information about CyPhy and its drones, you can visit the website.

Digital Trends Live airs at 9 a.m. PT from Monday through Friday, with highlights available on demand after the stream ends. For more information, check out the Digital Trends Live homepage, and be sure to watch live for the chance to win a $100 Amazon gift card, among other prizes.

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