The Stack Archive

4G connectivity could take drones beyond operators’ line of sight

Wed 7 Sep 2016

Qualcomm and AT&T have established a partnership to test mobile networks, aiming to prove that they are capable of supporting corporate drone systems. The two companies are attempting to convince regulators that UAVs should be considered as genuine delivery methods, beyond simple stunts and demonstrations.

The two network experts hope to show that commercial 4G LTE is advanced enough in terms of coverage, mobility and signal strength, that regulators make the decision to relax Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) rules.

Currently, in order to comply with the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) and other authorities’ regulations, drone operators must keep their UAV in sight. The network specialists believe that the new research will allow owners to fly drones and verify their operations without this restriction.

Qualcomm wrote in its official release that the ability to fly beyond an operator’s visual range could facilitate successful delivery control, remote inspection and exploration. The company added that wireless technology can provide many advantages for drone use, including ubiquitous coverage, high-speed mobile support, robust security, high reliability and quality of service.

The mobile chip designer also referred to regulation regarding proximity to air traffic. It confirmed that its research unit in San Diego was trialling operations within controlled airspace.

Qualcomm and AT&T suggest that the data collected in the test runs will help inform developments in drone regulations and future specifications for 5G technologies.

The trials, which begin later this month, will be based on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Flight drone development platform, designed to offer operators greater control and navigation capabilities. The system, which is already in use in some commercial drones, enables high fidelity sensor processing, precise geo-localisation, autonomous visual navigation, as well as 4K video (see video below).

This move by Qualcomm marks its latest step beyond mobile devices into emerging areas which has recently included interest into drones, IoT, virtual reality and driverless cars – growth sectors where it can apply its ARM-based system-on-a-chip (SoC) technology.

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