On the heels of news that Verizon would be partnering with Parrot to create the first off-the-shelf drone to connect to the Verizon 4G LTE network in the U.S., another big leap in drone connectivity has been made. Today, a Qualcomm 5G drone platform launches.
Qualcomm on Tuesday revealed the world’s first drone platform and reference design to offer both 5G and AI-capabilities, dubbed the Qualcomm Flight RB5 5G Platform.
As the world’s first 5G drone platform, Qualcomm’s solution is designed for commercial drone operators to more quickly transfer data in real-time, while operating at low-power. The platform, which Qualcomm is dubbing the “Qualcomm Flight RB5 5G Platform” uses a Qualcomm QRB5165 processor as the foundation of a high-performance drone that doesn’t require a ton of relative power.
Here are some of the top features on the new Qualcomm 5G drone platform:
- 5G and Wi-Fi 6 connectivity: Both are crucial in enabling beyond visual line-of-sight (BVLOS) by supporting more reliable (and thus safer) flight.
- 360 obstacle avoidance: With this, you’ll get depth estimation, obstacle detection and mapping.
- Qualcomm Secure Processing Unit: In an effort to address demands for greater cybersecurity protections in drones, this unit improves upon data-protection and safety requirements.
- Heterogeneous computing: Given the platform’s ultra-low power consumption, the platform provides power efficient inferencing at the edge for AI and Machine Learning (ML), enabling fully autonomous drones.
- A better controller: The drone uses a Smart UAV controller that has low-latency during FPV viewing. A HDMI interface also allows video to display on an external monitor.
The power of 5G in drones
So what is all the hubbub about 5G drones all about anyway? 5G connectivity is crucial for many long-range drone operations, like drone delivery. That’s because pretty much every drone flight beyond the operator’s line of sight — such as a multi-mile energy infrastructure inspection, first response or police activity — requires a reliably strong signal. A lost connection could be detrimental, typically resulting in flyaways or crashes.
Enter 5G: which solves those problems. Though 4G solves those problems too, 4G has problems of it’s own as it is still relatively slow. You could download an entire movie to your phone within seconds using 5G; the same thing over 4G would take many minutes. In drones, 5G means the ability to quickly transfer massive files from a mapping project, the ability to broadcast live aerial video for TV, or to run high-level drone racing operations.
Qualcomm’s position in drones
Qualcomm is one of the major wireless communications giants seeking to establish itself in the drone space, alongside other competitors such as Verizon. Verizon even once ran a TV campaign about 5G drones. Another competitor, T-Mobile announced it was taking a major stake in the action earlier this month when drone entertainment leader Drone Racing League announced its new Magenta 5G drone that uses T-Mobile 5G wireless technology.
Qualcomm has taken an early lead in drones, including launching a platform called Qualcomm Flight back in 2015, which later evolved into Qualcomm Flight Pro by December 2018. Among its use-cases including meal drone delivery in a partnership with Uber Eats.
“When we connected the phone to the internet, the mobile revolution was born,” according to a prepared statement from Qualcomm. “Today, our foundational technologies enable the mobile ecosystem and are found in every 3G, 4G and 5G smartphone.”
And now, they’re heading to drones too — as well as other future tech such as cars.
“We are proud to continue our momentum of enabling the digital transformation of global industries by unveiling the Qualcomm Flight RB5 5G Platform, a solution that is purpose-built for drone development with enhanced autonomy and intelligence features, bringing premium connected flight capabilities to industrial, enterprise and commercial segments,” said Dev Singh, a senior director at Qualcomm Technologies.
Though just as the 4G-connected Parrot ANAFI Ai won’t be available until later this year, the Qualcomm 5G drone platform is also not quite ready yet. The Qualcomm Flight RB5 5G drone reference design is available for pre-sale now through ModalAI, and the Qualcomm Flight RB5 5G development kit is not expected to be available until Q4 of 2021.