Network-connected drones are approaching becoming a reality, as major players team up to begin new trials.
Later this month, Qualcomm and AT&T will begin testing Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) operating on 4G LTE cellular network.
The trials are aiming to ultimately enable true remote drone operation beyond line-of-sight, according to Qualcomm and AT&T.
The plan is to explore how to safely and securely operate drones on current 4G LTE networks that smartphones use, as well as networks coming in the future like 5G.
Drones connected to the network will bring similar data-collection value to the Internet of Things, but could have a larger impact at scale, according to Matt Walsh, director of business development for UAS and IoT solutions at AT&T.
“Like other connected products, drones will be able to collect information from its environment through sensors,” Walsh told the IoT Daily.
“The interaction between drones and their environment could have a huge impact in areas such as agriculture for understanding the health of crops or traffic patterns in smart cities.”
For marketers and advertisers, this macro-level data could act as another layer of context for making better-informed decisions.
“There could be opportunities for data analysis for things such as traffic density and flow to ensure that marketing is placed at the right place at the right time,” Walsh said.
Some advantages of using cellular networks to operate drones include widespread signal coverage, security of that signal and reliability of the connections. The idea essentially is to bring the already established functionality and reach of current mobile networks to UAS platforms.
FAA regulations, although recently updated to better accommodate commercial use cases, still limit UAS operation to within the line-of-sight of the operator. The trials will be carried out at Qualcomm’s UAS Flight Center in San Diego, which is an FAA-approved test site.
The UAS Flight Center is designed to emulate real-world scenarios and includes commercial areas, residential areas, uninhabited areas and FAA controlled airspace, according to Qualcomm.