A low-cost unmanned aircraft system that powers an airborne drone via a tether could give search and rescues teams a continuous eye-in-the-sky. Matthew Stock reports.
A drone that could fly - in theory - forever. It's connected to a mobile ground station via a tether which delivers a constant drip feed of power. As long as there's fuel in the tank on the ground, the drone could stay airborne indefinitely. The makers say it could give both military and civilian operators a continuous eye-in-the-sky. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DR STEPHEN PRIOR, READER IN UNMANNED AIR VEHICLES FROM UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHAMPTON, SAYING: "It's basically a virtual mast, so you could imagine surveillance operations, rescue missions at sea or on land, surveillance of large complexes like nuclear power stations." The drone can be fitted with thermal imaging cameras for search and rescue missions, and high-definition video cameras for aerial surveillance. It was developed by engineers from Southampton University and Essex-based Cardinal Securities. It's the only tethered UAV in the UK legally approved to operate at heights up to 400 ft. Miltary grade systems like this cost about a quarter of a million pounds, whereas this one comes in at 70,000 pounds. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DR STEPHEN PRIOR, READER IN UNMANNED AIR VEHICLES FROM UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHAMPTON, SAYING: "You can hook the trailer up to your 4x4 vehicle and you can drive anywhere you want and get it in the air within a few minutes, and move around to different locations while staying in the air. Or you can come back down to box it up and move to a different location. So it's quite flexible as a system, quite adaptable to the mission scenario and at a good price point that makes it affordable to blue-light services as well as companies that want security." This tethered drone system was recently previewed at the Farnborough air show. The makers are now looking to commercialise the proof of concept system, and plan to start low-volume production later this year.