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Meet AT&T’s Extreme-Weather ‘Flying COW’ Drone

The Flying COW (Cell on Wings) drone | AT&T
The Flying COW (Cell on Wings) drone | AT&T

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Meet AT&T’s Extreme-Weather ‘Flying COW’ Drone

American telecom giant AT&T have designed a wireless-enabled “Extreme-Weather Drone” with the ability to function in extreme temperatures, it has been reported.

Able to withstand both hot and below freezing temperatures as well as tropical wind gusts of up to 50 mph, the all-weather Flying COW drone designed by AT&T with assistance from manufacturers and first responders.

It is this ability to fly through rain or snow that means AT&T’s Flying COW (Cell on Wings) drone will now be one of two types of drones on offer for its Network Disaster Recovery (NDR) system.

Art Pregler, AT&T’s unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) program director, explained RCR Wireless that the Flying COW is an octocopter drone, with four arms, each bearing two rotors.

The all-weather Flying COW drone was built by AT&T in public-private partnership with the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), and aims to keep its wireless network “flying” in a disaster.

In a lot of cases, drone manufacturers come up with a drone design, “and then they try to weather-proof it as an afterthought,” says Pregler.

In comparison, the Flying COW has been designed as an all-weather drone from the first.

“The motors are facing down, the way the air flows through it, even inside of it — the tubes of the structure itself …. Thought was put into the temperatures that it would be operating in, the rain conditions, the snow conditions. It was optimized for that purpose,” he said.

The drone is equipped with small cells and antennas and it’s compactness makes it easy to transport, and quickly deploy “to accommodate rapidly changing conditions in an emergency”.

This includes not only weather conditions but also rapidly changing network conditions within the A&T network, says Pregler.

Pregler believes drones will have an increasing role in communications networks, and will become over time, more integrated within the network. This will determine what additional capacity or coverage is needed throughout each given day.

A tethered Flying COW drone | AT&T

A tethered Flying COW drone | AT&T

Pregler explains that currently the way they are using drones are as ‘terrestrial COWs’ on tethered drones — and that they will become, over time, more integrated with the network and could be deployed from cell towers to locations to provide that temporary extra capacity.

When the network determines that capacity is no longer needed, the drones could return back to the cell towers to recharge and await their next mission as autonomously directed by the network itself.

Pregler says AT&T worked with manufacturers and third party vendors to make the drone and selected what they believed to be the best platform on the market; they then approached the manufacturer to request additional capabilities based on the platform.

The Extreme-Weather Drone‘s maiden flight took place last week in Bedminster, New Jersey. It was also flown by University of Washington engineering students who tested the  LTE antennas which they designed to connect on the AT&T drones. The antenna development and test flight was the first time the new all-weather flying COW took on live LTE test traffic.

According to Pregler the number all-weather drones to be deployed in AT&T’s Flying COW system,is yet to be decided but the plan is to deploy two types of drones, the Extreme-Weather Drone being one, via the Network Disaster Recovery Team.

Pregler says they are going to place these at each of the NDR operations centers across the U.S. which are already strategically located so they can access  where disasters tend to occur in the minimum amount of time and where there is already a large amount of various types of network equipment available.

A previous model of the Flying COW was deployed experimentally to provide connectivity in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

The new Flying COW promises to offer first responders and field technicians a new tool to help deal with the challenging situations and environments and extreme weather conditions disaster recovery work often presents.

This new technology has the potential to play a vital role in equipping first responders across the country operating in remote locations, battling a rapidly moving wildfire, for search and rescue crews operating where a network doesn’t exist.

The durability and imaging capabilities of the all-weather AT&T Flying COW mean that the potential applications for fire, police and search and rescue may provide life-saving technology in tough situations.

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