If a portable cellular tower on wheels is called a COW, then what does one call a drone with a tether for power and communications? Perhaps the answer is Superfly™. Whatever the acronym, Spooky Action is bringing a new approach to creating ad-hoc communications networks and more.
At the heart of Spooky Action’s innovation is their Superfly™ system, which provides power and a telecom link via an ultra-thin tether managed by an auto-spooler. This system operates with third-party drones that are under 55 pounds (meeting the FAA’s Part 107 rules for commercial operations).
Spooky Action has two products based on their own FAA Part 107-compliant drone design;
- Telelift™ – The Flying Cell Tower
- Watchtower™ – Persistent Aerial Observation
Both of these are capable of carrying up to 22 pounds of payload, such as radios (cell tower use case), or cameras and thermal imaging (observation). Applications for the Watchtower include industrial, agricultural, and public safety operations, while Telelift’s small size is suited for disaster response or other temporary communications needs.
Small Size, Fast Response
As CEO Rahul Tiwari points out, Telelift’s diminutive size, compared to traditional portable cell towers, is ideal for hard-to-reach locations. For example, according to the Spooky Action website, Telelift was one of the first connectivity assets deployed in the aftermath of the 2020 Hurricane Laura disaster in Louisiana.
Flying up to 200 feet above ground level, Telelift’s height is comparable to a typical cell tower. The communications connection from the radio unit to the base is via a fiber optic cable. That it receives its power from the ground provides it with virtually unlimited flight time, depending upon the source.
The drone’s onboard batteries provide a level of redundancy and the autonomous flight system would ensure that it lands safely if, say, the tether was cut. Tiwari is clear that, even with its autonomous flight capabilities, the FAA’s Part 107 rules still require an RPIC (Remote Pilot in Command) to ensure safe operation.
Tiwari proudly points out that their products are manufactured in Minnesota and, as much as possible, they try to locally source components. Finally, in the above interview, he reveals the inspiration for the name of his company, Spooky Action.