5G is one of the hottest buzzwords being thrown around at this year’s CES 2021, 5G, short for “fifth-generation networks,” is essentially a significantly faster network than the current standard, 4G. And for Verizon, 5G technology in drones is enabling them to take the lead in drone deliveries, as the company is doing in Florida already.
Skyward, which was acquired by Verizon in 2017 revealed this week at CES 2021 (the now virtual version of the formerly massive Consumer Electronics Show, usually held in Las Vegas) the latest in its collaboration with UPS Flight Forward (the drone delivery arm of UPS).
The company is currently in the early phases of testing 5G integration for drone delivery (though deliveries are also done using Verizon 4G LTE) of retail products at The Villages in Florida. That partnership began in 2020, when Verizon, UPS Flight Forward, and Skyward started testing 4G LTE in delivery drones to demonstrate cellular reliability and performance at altitude.
But it’s 5G that experts say will make widespread, large-scale drone deliveries possible. 5G Ultra Wideband allows UPS to manage and support multiple drones, flying simultaneously, dispatched from a centralized location, operating in a secure and safe environment. And with that, drone delivery has the potential to be more on-demand. A spokesperson for Verizon said the 5G-focused project demonstrate its potential for a nationwide drone delivery network.
Why is 5G important for drone delivery?
The use of 5G reduces the amount of hardware on the drone, removing weight and heat. That means drones can fly longer and go greater distances — essential for use-cases like drone delivery. Additionally, 5G is believed to be able to significantly drive down cost by reducing the amount of onboard computing.
“We will need the ability to manage and support multiple drones, flying simultaneously, dispatched from a centralized location, operating in a secure and safe environment,” said Carol B. Tomé, CEO of UPS. “To do this at scale, alongside Verizon and Skyward, we’ll need the power of 5G.”
For drone use-cases where viewing a real-time feed of the drone’s camera is relevant, whether it’s generating a real-time map for an inspection, or streaming an FPV drone race, the reduced latency and massive bandwidth provided by 5G Edge is crucial. For something like drone racing, that means the amount of viewers and audience size can increase. For an inspection, pilots can use computer vision or laser-based obstacle detection systems to gain real-time situational awareness.
“The low latency of 5G and edge compute is ideal for monitoring air traffic in and out of a busy logistics hub, especially those using mixed fleets of autonomous vehicles like drones, trucks, and planes,” said Mariah Scott, Skyward President. “This year, we’ll be taking the collaboration with UPS further by testing 5G Ultra Wideband integrations to connect the sky.”
Coronavirus: actually good for drone delivery?
Since creating Flight Forward, UPS has executed more than 3,800 successful drone delivery flights. And the team says coronavirus was “only an accelerator” for its work.
UPS Flight Forward ramped up a number of coronavirus-related projects. In addition to partnering with CVS and Verizon to deliver prescriptions to a retirement community in Central Florida called The Villages, UPS also conducted a separate effort of transporting healthcare equipment around WakeMed’s campus in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Coronavirus revealed that not only is drone delivery often faster than traditional land delivery, but perhaps more important than ever: drone delivery can provide contactless delivery. Especially for high-risk seniors (and keep in mind that UPS is testing at a Florida retirement community) rapid and contactless deliveries are important when staying at home.
CES 2021 can be viewed via livestream, making it more accessible than usual years of the CES conference, where travel was expensive and Las Vegas hotel room rates dramatically increase. Pretty much every major drone conference in 2020 was either cancelled or went virtual.