Here’s a partnership that makes perfect sense. French drone maker Parrot announced on Wednesday an exclusive partnership with Verizon and Skyward that brings the first out-of-the-box, Verizon 4G LTE connected drone solution to the United States. That means that now you can fly with your Parrot ANAFI Ai drone from anywhere there’s a signal with near real time data transfer.
Under the terms of the partnership, the Parrot ANAFI Ai drone becomes the first off-the-shelf drone that’s able to connect to Verizon’s 4G LTE network. And with 4G connectivity, you should expect improved ability to conduct complex drone flights including flights beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) or flights that would occur in relatively crowded airspace that would need universal traffic management (UTM) capabilities.
Under the new partnership, then — if you have a Parrot ANAFI Ai drone and a subscription to Skyward — you’ll be granted Verizon 4G LTE connectivity at no additional cost.
What is Skyward?
Skyward’s software is a complete drone operations management solution, designed for companies looking to manage a single program or one team and be able to plan, fly, transfer and process data within the same tool. Its features include the ability to make LAANC airspace access requests, live flight tracking, flight log syncing with DroneDeploy and more.
Skyward, based in Oregon, was acquired by Verizon in 2017. But even before that, Verizon was interested in drones. As far back as October 2016, the telecom giant announced that it would sell data plans specifically for drones, starting at $25 a month for 1 gigabyte of data and $80 for 10 gigabytes. That plans would allow drones to connect to the internet in flight for streaming videos and other data to the ground. More recently, Verizon has had its hands in aspects of the drone industry including demonstrating proof of concepts for Remote ID.
About Parrot ANAFI Ai
French drone maker Parrot is largely considered the original pioneer in consumer drones. Its original (and now discontinued) Parrot AR drone is largely considered to be the first ready-to-fly, consumer-focused drones out there and at one time was pretty popular. It received accolades way back in 2010 as a 2010 CES Innovations award for Electronic Gaming Hardware, and by early 2013, around half a million units had been sold. But also in 2013, DJI’s Phantom drone came onto the market, which quickly took over as the leading consumer drone.
As DJI took the lead in consumer drones, Parrot shifted a good chunk of focus to the enterprise market, leading to the creation of Parrot ANAFI Ai, which is a compact professional drone built for work applications (its airframe weighs less than 2 pounds).
A critical step for Parrot came just this summer, when Parrot actually announced the first 4G connected drone on the market. Dubbed the ANAFI AI, the drone improves upon Parrot’s existing ANAFI drone with a key new component: the ability to fly without transmission limitations.
The drone has a focus on developers, with a full open source app. It’s also designed with enterprise in mind, including autonomous 1 click photogrammetry and extra cybersecurity.
Flight features on the Parrot ANAFI Ai include:
- omni-directional obstacle avoidance system
- 48 MP imaging accuracy
- 4K 60fps smooth videos
- Up to 32 minutes of flight time
Though, you can’t buy it just yet. The ANAFI Ai won’t be available until the second half of 2021.
How Parrot works with the Verizon 4G LTE network (and how much it costs)
Once you’ve got an account with Skyward, it’s a fairly straightforward integration to get your drone connected to the Verizon 4G LTE network. Parrot ANAFI Ai’s embedded Secure Element secures the 4G LTE link between the drone and your device. Parrot’s implemented streaming software then adapts to the 4G situation to optimize the definition and frame rate to the network quality.
To activate 4G LTE connectivity, connect to the Skyward InFlight mobile app, where you’ll be guided through the buttons to tap to get there.
Skyward says it all comes at no extra cost if you already have a Skyward subscription, but interestingly caveated it with the word, “today.”
“Today, as a Skyward customer, the cost of the ANAFI Ai’s connectivity is included with a Skyward subscription — no wireless bills, hidden fees, complicated activation, or store visits are necessary,” according to a statement from Skyward.
Though, it’s unclear if prices might go up later.
And of course, you will still need a Skyward subscription, which costs $299 annually for the Business plan, or $998 for the upgraded Business+ plan. That breaks down to $25 per month for the lower-cost plan, which is likely cheaper than most phone bills (there’s also a free trial offered).
Why Verizon 4G LTE network connectivity is important
Today, most commercial drones use unlicensed spectrum, which most experts agree restricts range and can be subject to interference. That won’t work for more complex drone operations.
Cellular connectivity has long been a white whale for the drone industry. With it, drone pilots should theoretically achieve more precise, robust and secure control at any distance with a 4G LTE connection that avoids obstacles.
In short, as long as you have a 4G connection, then your connection to the drone and its data will be far better.
“Verizon 4G LTE connectivity provides a seamless backup connection to the flight controller in case of interference or interruption,” according to a statement from Skyward. “It paves the way for near real-time data transfer, remote deployment, and Beyond Visual Line of Sight flight operations — which are allowed today with a waiver from the FAA.”
Some other benefits of the Parrot and Verizon partnership include:
- Ability to obtain fast, automated access to controlled airspace from the Federal Aviation Administration with LAANC
- Processing with Skyward Mapping & Modeling, powered by Pix4D
- The ability to transfer all that data data during flight over 4G LTE
- Ongoing flight planning with Skyward’s airspace map and fleet management tools
Thought it was announced this week, the Skyward Connected Drone Solution with Parrot ANAFI Ai on Verizon 4G LTE will be available on an undisclosed date sometime in the second half of 2021. Currently the only models of ANAFI drones available to not offer AI connectivity.
“Cellular connectivity is the new communications standard for the professional drone industry and Parrot ANAFI Ai seeks to set new standards for drones at work” said Henri Seydoux, Founder and CEO of Parrot. “We truly believe it is a game changer for the professional drone industry.”