5 Things to Know About 5G Drones
1. 5G is Here
5G, launched in 2019, is the 5th generation mobile network and championed by Qualcomm®. It elevates the 4G/LTE standard by producing high speeds at lower latency and is designed for forward compatibility, meaning that its enhanced mobile broadband can support future services and industries unknown to us today.
5G devices are currently being launched at a rapid rate, and almost every mobile manufacturer has a 5G compatible device available for sale (including the Qualcomm Flight RB5 5G Reference Drone). A 5G device is nothing without a strong 5G network to run on, and in 2020, we saw popular carriers promoting their superior 5G wireless networks to the public. 5G speed on mobile devices means that even in congested areas such as stadiums, concerts, and amusement parks, people can surf the web, make calls, or post photos to social media with no lag.
2. 5G Enables Seamless Communication for Drones
5G is a game changer for autonomous drones. When flying, drones typically use less reliable point to point links, which could lose signal at any time during flight. When operating on a 5G network, a drone benefits from the ultra-high reliability and low-latency connectivity. This means a drone can receive and act on commands sent from the ground control system or pilot quickly. 5G helps to reduce the time spent between sending, receiving, and acting upon commands, therefore reducing the margin of error that could happen during flight. This low-latency is especially useful in navigation scenarios, where drones fly in GPS-denied environments or Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS). In this use case, drones can’t use GPS, and rely on visual inertial odometry (VIO) to navigate in areas where the pilot’s view is obscured. 5G will ensure that the drone’s camera feed seamlessly updates on the pilot’s ground control system in real time, sending the pilot an accurate view of where the drone is.
3. 5G Will Enable Wide Scale Deployments of Mission-Critical Drone Use Cases
Use cases that will benefit from drones operating on a 5G network include aerial inspection, film and entertainment, mapping, delivery, mission critical, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR). 5G enabled delivery drones can reliably deliver medical equipment like COVID tests to affected communities safely by limiting human to human contact, reducing the spread of infections. Search and rescue drones can report data and area visuals in real time at little to no latency, increasing the speed and efficiency of search and rescue missions. Overall, the reliability and low latency of 5G will enhance these novel use cases and increase the adoption of autonomous drones.
4. Companies Have Already Invested in 5G and Autonomous Drones
Major players like e-commerce giants, Uber Eats, Amazon, and UPS, have already invested heavily in their own fleet of autonomous drones. Network carriers like Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile have also promoted their own private 5G networks, and have even tested for drone compatibility. These large investments in drones and 5G signal the massive growth that the drone industry should expect in the next couple of years.
5. If You Want a 5G Drone, You Need a 5G Modem
Similar to mobile devices, if you want your drone to operate on a 5G network, you need to get a new one that supports 5G or retrofit your current one. New 5G drones must be equipped with a 5G-compatible modem. Having a capable computing platform on board enables the drone to achieve the faster, low-latency, on-board computing that is associated with 5G, such as 3 Gbps upload and 7.5 Gbps download speeds. You’ll need a 5G modem compatible with your wireless carrier, and then an appropriately configured SIM card to make the data connection.
If you want to retrofit your old drone, you need a 5G add-on board that hosts a 5G modem that is backwards compatible with your current drone setup. Do note that if you retrofit your old drone with a 5G modem, you may not be able to reap all the benefits of flying over a 5G network, due to the limitations of the old, not 5G-compatible, SoC. There aren’t any out of the box solutions on the market that support 5G...until now.
5G Takes Flight VOXL Powered Development Drones
Last year we partnered with Qualcomm to bring developers and OEMS the Qualcomm Flight RB5 5G platform, the first purpose-built 5G drone platform with best in class computing. Built on the foundation of Qualcomm’s premium robotics platform, the Qualcomm Flight RB5 5G platform condenses multiple complex autonomous AI and CV capabilities into a small compact system, perfect for a broad set of integrators who can build their applications that take advantage of the coming aerial 5G wave.
In 2022, we launched the Sentinel, the newest development drone powered by Blue UAS Framework 2.0 autopilot, VOXL 2. The Sentinel has all the great capabilities from VOXL 2 including the QRB5165 processor, 5G capabilities, and SWAP-optimized form factor.