Drone Aviation Corp expanding tethered platform with partners
Drone Aviation Corp.’s attempts to tame the sky could soon transform the operations of firefighters or newsgathering entities. Formed in 2014 as a spin-out of an aerospace technology, engineering and manufacturing firm called Lighter Than Air Systems, the Florida-based company has developed and commercialized the WATT tethered drone platform. The tethered technology—which includes a unique winch deployment system and a tether covered in Kevlar—was based off a helium-powered tethered platform used for military and information gathering purposes. To date, three U.S. Federal Aviation Administration section 333 exemption holders have been granted permission to utilize DAC’s WATT-200 tethered platform.
Dan Erdberg, president of DAC, spoke with UAS Magazine about the recent efforts of the company to educate commercial, private or military-based stakeholders on the tethered platform and why the drive by many commercial UAS operators or end-users to free fly unmanned aircraft vehicles may not always offer the best solution.
DAC’s current tethered models can fly roughly 400 feet, or the height of a 40-story building. According to Erdberg, most clients only require a 200-foot flight ceiling. The entire system is contained in hard-sided cases. The tether is wrapped in Kevlar and is deployed or retracted from one of the hard-sided cases. The tether supplies both power to the unit and receives payload-generated data from the platform while in flight. The cases can be fitted into a television production vehicle, on the back of a UTV or left free to carry to the jobsite. Through a tablet or laptop computer, the drone can be deployed and the elevation set for continuous hover by a slider similar to a volume slider on a phone. Once in place, the camera can be controlled from the ground by onsite operations or from a remote location.
The platform features safety redundancies including extra power storage, titanium payload protectors and extra GPS and compass units. “Our unit can stay in the air for hours and hours,” said Erdberg. “We can also fly a lot heavier airframes,” adding that “there is no piloting experience required.”
In July, DAC acquired the exclusive software rights to a Georgia Tech University-designed autopilot system for the WATT line of tethered drones. “This technology adds valuable intellectual property that would take years and considerable investment to reproduce and enables our long-term growth plans vital to our remaining at the forefront of unmanned vehicle development,” said Jay Nussbaum, DAC chairman.
Educating the Commercial UAS End-User
Although DAC is already in talks with several of its previously-established military and defense clients for use of the tethered drone, Erdberg and team are expanding their efforts to explain why tethered options are still exciting and beneficial to prospective users.
The team recently finalized a partnership with an emergency responder consulting and training company, Skyfire, allowing the consulting group access to the tethered drone. “We thought they would be a great partner to get our product into the hands of first responders,” Erdberg said.
After time spent at DAC’s facility in Florida, the Skyfire team agreed to educate and explain the tethered system to its firefighting-consulting clients. In addition to training and education on specific platforms, the consulting group also helps to highlight potential government grants or funding options available to first responders for the purchase of UAS.
Although most of Skyfire’s offerings and training to first responders is based on free-flying platforms, both agreed that giving a fire chief the ability to deploy a drone with a thermal imagery camera equipped with a 10x zoom above a fixed point would be very valuable.
In addition to its recent work with Skyfire, the DAC team has also held discussions with first responder units throughout Florida and Georgia.