Spanish incumbent Telefónica has shared details of a pilot project designed to address some of the practicalities of commercial drone services.
Using various technologies, the telco claims to have demonstrated how cellular and positioning technology can enable multiple connected delivery drones to communicate with one another and their surrounding environment, allowing them to safely navigate urban areas and make those all-important deliveries.
“The applications of drones in both the business and everyday world are innumerable: transportation of goods, photography, search and rescue, agriculture, engineering inspections, 3D mapping, surveillance, environment, recreational flights, etc. For all of them, drones need communications both to be piloted and to transmit the data collected in real time,” said Leonor Ostos, innovation manager at Telefónica Spain, in a statement. “This project aims to deepen the possibilities of air control and communications between drones to put them at the service of this new reality that we foresee in the short-medium term.”
Telefónica has been joined in this endeavour by Ericsson, critical comms specialist Genasys, technology services firm Gradiant, and Spanish postal service Correos. The demonstration forms part of the Telefónica 5G Madrid proposal, which aims to snaffle up a share of 5G grants available from Red.es, an arm of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Digital Transformation that is tasked with promoting the Spanish government’s digital agenda.
For its demonstration, Telefonica deployed C-V2X and 5G to enable high-speed, low-latency connectivity between the drones and their surroundings. In tandem with this, it also used mobile location, and a technology called real-time kinematic positioning (RTK), which is able to improve the performance of satellite positioning systems like GPS, giving measurements that are accurate to 1 centimetre.
With this technology in place, a drone was able to detect that it was on a collision course with another drone, and was able to stop and give way to it. It was also able to detect and circumnavigate restricted zones that had been designated using ground-based beacons. In addition to all this, the drone was able to make a precise landing at a mobile delivery point that was transmitting its location with a beacon.
While all this was going on, an air traffic control platform was giving real-time location data about each drone and beacon, and detailing all of the communications taking place between them.
Overcoming the technical hurdles solves only part of the problem though. Public opposition to drones could also be an issue. According to some admittedly old data, in 2017, there were nearly 10 drone-related complaints per day made to police forces across the UK. Despite strict rules governing drone flight, noise disturbances, privacy concerns, and nagging safety fears are easy fodder for localised grassroots campaigns that could easily stop widespread commercial drone activities in their (airborne) tracks.
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