Flying cows are no longer a concept found only in movies starring the late and great Bill Paxton.
AT&T recently announced that it completed an “industry first” live test flight of the Flying COW – an Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) (read: drone) equipped with a compact, but powerful “small cell” capable of transmitting and receiving high-speed data to and from mobile devices on the ground – quite aptly named a Flying Cell On Wings (COW). Though only tested in an open field in Atlanta, rather than between skyscrapers in a major population center, AT&T said the Flying COWs are able to provide phone, text, and Internet data coverage spanning an area of up to 40 square miles.
While AT&T indicated they could be used over large event venues to bolster connectivity or deployed to expand network coverage to “dead zones,” these Flying COWs are geared towards supporting AT&T’s Network Disaster Recovery team to restore communications in times of emergencies, such as in cases of natural disaster or terrorist attack, when reliable communications and operations at extended range are critical to saving lives.
Though, for now, the Flying COWs must be physically tethered to fiber and power connections on the ground and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) currently requires drones to be operated within eyesight of the operator, in view of the FAA’s Pathfinder Program and the Vigilant-NASA Project , future rulemaking soon promises extended range and beyond visual-line-of-sight operations, which would unlock the full potential of AT&T’s technology.