In Puerto Rico, thanks to fast-track approval given buy the FAA, drones are now part of the recovery effort. Specifically drones are being used to restore voice, data and Internet services to the entire island.
The FAA has given fast-track approval for what it calls the first unmanned aircraft operation of its kind to help restore cellular service in Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria.
The service is based on the “Flying COW” (Cell on Wings) drone developed by AT&T to beam LTE coverage from the sky to customers on the ground during disasters or big events.
How do the “Flying COW” drones work?
The Flying Cow drones have been designed to “beam LTE coverage from the sky to customers on the ground during disasters or big events,” according to ZDNet.
The drones will carry a small cell, along with antennas, that are connected to the ground by a tether. This specific setup will allow power and fiber data connections to be brought to customers on the island. Further, the power being transmitted from the ground, up to the Flying Cow, will allow the Flying Cow to remain in the sky indefinitely.
The Flying Cow resembles a helicopter, and will surpass the FAA’s 55-pound weight limit set forth under the agency’s small drone rules. However, the FAA has made an exception in the case of AT&T’s new drone, and will allow it to operate in the skies over Puerto Rico.
The telecom giant’s drone will also connect to satellites to allow citizens to transfer calls, texts and data, and will potentially be able to fly over 300 ft in the sky, while providing coverage as far as 40 square miles away.
“The Flying Cow can operate in extremely remote areas and where wired or wireless infrastructure is not immediately available,” AT&T stated in a blog post. “The Flying Cow is an exciting next step in how we’re using drones to bring strong wireless connectivity to those who need it most.”
This deployment of the “Flying COW” is unique because it’s the first time a drone has been successfully used to connect residents to services post disaster. The project has been hugely successful too, AT&T is reporting 80% of Puerto Rico’s cell customers now have service (up from 63%).
AT&T said last week this marked the first time an LTE cell site on a drone had been successfully deployed for connecting residents after a disaster. After we published this story initially, AT&T said it had taken the drone out of service in Puerto Rico and has no specific plan to start using it there again.
Two months after Hurricane Maria battered the commonwealth, just 63 percent of cellular sites are operational there. As of Thursday, AT&T said 80 percent of Puerto Rico’s cell customers were connected.
AT&T was kind enough to provide this video:
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