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iRobot founder creates two small drones in new CyPhy gig

Posting in Design

Who knew a vacuum cleaner would ever inspire such love?

We're, of course, talking about the Roomba, a self-directed vacuum cleaner that can roam a room on its own and whisk away dirt and dust at the same time -- all while working around obstacles and preventing itself from falling down the stairs.

The creator, Helen Greiner, also helped turn her former company, iRobot, into a very important supplier of ground robots for the military.

Four years ago, she left iRobot to found CyPhyWorks, and finally, via Wired, we're getting a peak at what she's been creating there -- and it turns out they're two small drones. Even more surprising? These drones will be attached by a thin copper wire to their base stations. But more on that in a second.

The drones

EASE (Extreme Access System for Entry)

The first one is a small drone, about a foot wide and 16 inches tall, designed for surveillance, intelligence and reconnaissance. It can fly through small windows and theoretically stay aloft forever.

Say what?

Well, that's where the thin copper wire comes in. Instead of communicating wirelessly, the drone will receive both power and direction through the copper microfilament, which will be the thickness of a fishing line.

Without that microfilament, it would stay up for 50 minutes. But if the battery in the base station were to be regularly renewed, it wouldn't really need to come down.

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

If the idea of a drone with a wire attached to it seems funny to you, Grenier has an answer to that. She told Unmanned Systems News:

“I believe in cheating on technological problems. I’ve always believed that, by the way, and if you can do something simpler, let’s do it.”

Greiner also asserts that the drone, because it doesn't communicate wirelessly, will be harder to track, but I'm skeptical: Won't the copper wire make it easier to track?

Well, whichever it is, the drone features two high-definition cameras, plus an optional thermal camera. You can see it in action in the video below.

PARC (Persistent Aerial Reconnaissance and Communications)

Parc differs from Ease in that it is meant to fly higher (for instance, at 1,000 feet) for longer periods of time. It has two cameras -- one high-def and one thermal -- plus night vision and auto-pilot.

It also draws its power from a copper fishing-line-like wire. Again, I'm just thinking: What if the wire gets caught in some tree branches on its way up to its 1,000-foot-high view?

Well, never fear, there is always a fall back. Unmanned Systems News reports, "The tether spools from the vehicle so it won’t get tangled. Should it happen to snag or break, the vehicle can use its battery power to fly back to its point of origin." Phew!

These are just prototypes. But the military is interested in Parc, because it could be useful in surveillance in remote areas.

Related on SmartPlanet:

via: Wired

photos: Top: EASE at Fort Benning (Courtesy of CyPhy); PARC in the air (Courtesy of CyPhy)

— By on December 4, 2012, 7:00 PM PST

Laura Shin

Features Editor

Laura Shin has been published in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Los Angeles Times, and is currently a contributor at Forbes. Previously, she worked at Newsweek, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and LearnVest. She holds degrees from Stanford University and Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure