From Wired's Danger Room:

Four years ago, iRobot co-founder Helen Greiner stepped down from the company she helped turn into an all-important supplier of the military’s growing arsenal of ground robots. Now today, she’s unveiled the first ‘bots to roll off her new company’s assembly line. What are they? Teeny tiny hovering drones, designed to fly through your window and spy on you.

That’s just one of two robots revealed so far from Massachusetts company CyPhy Works, founded by Greiner after leaving iRobot. We’ve also now got a sense of what Greiner’s been developing for the past couple of years.

The first is Ease, or “Extreme Access System for Entry.” Really, it’s a tiny hover-bot designed for “intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance.” And it’s small enough — it only has a 1-foot diameter and a height of 16 inches from top to bottom – to fly through windows and maneuver through buildings with its ducted fan engine. In a video released by the company, the Ease can be seen hovering through an abandoned-looking building to a psychedelic funk soundtrack. It can also theoretically stay in the air forever.

“Being able to stay up aloft without constant interruptions to come down and recharge is a critical new capability,” Greiner tells Danger Room. “And with locations where you don’t have a lot of infrastructure.”

The reason is that instead of communicating wirelessly, the drone receives instructions and power through a microfilament cord of spooled copper the width of a fishing line and connected to the robot’s ground control station. And because it’s plugged in directly, the Ease drone should be harder to hack than other drones.

Once launched, a single battery at the ground station can also keep the drone up for 50 minutes, but this could be extended indefinitely by hot-swapping batteries at the control station. And as it is, most small drones that go wireless can’t stay up for very long, because “people have [started] putting more and more sensors and payloads onto them,” Greiner says, which drags on the power supply.

And while the operators are swapping out the batteries, Ease is scanning everything it sees with two high-def cameras and a third, albeit optional, thermal camera. Another purported advantage of the microfilament line is that the operator doesn’t have to worry about losing a wireless signal, say, if the robot moves behind a brick wall. And since the drone is moving in potentially close quarters to obstacles and people, “you really want to make it safe” by using a ducted fan, she says.

The other new drone is the Parc, or “Persistent Aerial Reconnaissance and Communications.” Like Ease, it also hovers. But the Parc is designed to fly high and for long periods of time, and resembles aflying bug with four skinny legs and a quadrotor. The robot can hover at 1,000 feet while being powered — like the Ease — by a microfilament line.

And while it’s up there, Parc can carry out “persistent stare capabilities” for up to 12 hours at a time (on one battery) while packing two cameras, one in high-def and another in thermal. And it has night vision and “flies itself.” (Oh great.) The military is reportedly interested.

There’s no word if CyPhy Works has received any orders yet, though. These drones are still prototypes. But it’s probably not far off. The Boston Globe‘s Scott Kirsner estimated the company’s investor funding at $3 million, “much of it from Cambridge-based [venture capital] firm General Cata....” But Kirsner also notes that the company has received millions more in federal grants. Which could make those tiny hover ‘bots begin flying into houses and spying on you from above sometime soon.

Views: 2562

Comment by Tony Heaton on December 5, 2012 at 9:03am

Are the bad guys really hiding out in abandoned buildings with all the windows broken out and no clutter to snag the tether on?  I'm sure the bad guys don't have sharp edged tools either.

Comment by Carl Campbell on December 5, 2012 at 3:30pm

I do like the fact that the tether is deployed from the moving end and not from the ground station.  That is one of those stupid simple things I figured they used years ago.  

Comment by Bill Patterson on December 5, 2012 at 4:11pm

Actually this is the exact kind of thing I was envsioning with my little x250 quad. Problem is, with two cameras, landing gear, video tx, telemetry radio, landing legs, it got up to about 1kg and flight time is down to 8-9 minutes. Prop shrouds will weight even more. I've decided to go with longer arms and props for now. I still think it can't be that hard to make a 15 minute SWAT team probe. I need a second APM. Two mision goals mean two machine types. :-)

Comment by Todd Hill on December 5, 2012 at 11:26pm

The "patented" microfilament system seems of more interest.    

Comment by Tim Wilkin on December 5, 2012 at 11:56pm

I continually wonder at this type of application for MAVs. It's not what you'd call "clandestine" in terms of its surveillance capabilities - any half-deaf terrorist/drug lord will hear it coming and hoof it out the back door... Or better yet, just close the door to the front room in which they left the window open. Perhaps criminal/military types will learn that the simplest strategy to dealing with unwanted MAVs entering your windows is to keep them closed.

It's certainly not novel in terms of application... but there are some interesting technical aspects to the project, so I'm interested to see where they go with product development and future ideas.

Comment by Flying Monkey on December 6, 2012 at 12:16pm


Comment by John Hestness on December 6, 2012 at 6:16pm

I could use one of these to hold a TV antenna at altitude. But I bet that's not the market they are going after.

Comment by Tim Wilkin on December 6, 2012 at 6:44pm

Lol... now you're making me wonder about whether or not we could generate power in the filament using static charge buildup... fly one of these at altitude and let power run in a loop filament... bleed off what you don't need for sustaining flight and use it for some evil purpose! ;)

Comment by Steven G on December 6, 2012 at 6:50pm
Sorry but I have to say it, is that all you got?
Comment by GLEN BROCKHURST on December 7, 2012 at 3:35pm

Good luck to them if it is viable for certain situations, and the gov bodies are daft enough to fork out the doe , last time i checked spying involved stealth and quite, but im old school.


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