Drones in America: Startup Builds Tiny Surveillance Robots That Fit Through a Window


As militarized drones flying over the Middle East and South Asia give way to models that are more commercial, sometimes you get the feeling that a drone is what kids will be asking for next Christmas.

A military-grade startup, CyPhy Works, recently unveiled prototypes of two small surveillance drones that could fly through an open window or hover 1,000 feet in the air. They may not be under the Christmas tree in 2013, but with the FAA reviewing permits for domestic drone use, you could start seeing law enforcement agencies using the likes of them soon.

One of CyPhy Works' robots, the EASE (Extreme Access System for Entry), could enter through a window. It is one foot across and 16 inches high, basically two shoeboxes stacked on top of each other. It is connected to a controller by a thin copper cord and the power resides in the base station. By swapping out batteries, the drone could stay in the air indefinitely.

The other robot, PARC (Persistent Aerial Reconnaissance and Communications), is designed for aerial use. It's also connected to a base station through a copper cord and can hover 1,000 feet in the air while “staring” at an area for up to 12 hours on one battery, which can again be swapped out.

CyPhy is headed up by Helen Greiner, the co-founder of iRobot, which is a significant military supplier. One estimate puts CyPhy's venture funding at $3 million, mostly from General Catalyst, with millions more in federal grants. 

A time in which robots like these are being used to scout a suspect’s home or to maintain an eye on a large crowd at a concert or demonstration are completely reasonable.

It's an odd future, enough to make the J. Edgar's of the world salivate.