A big 5G drone test is underway in New York. So big, that it’s taking place on the state’s 50-mile drone corridor.
5G has been a buzzword in the drone industry this year, promising faster feeds and the ability to transfer bigger files. For companies using drones to gather high volumes of data such as multiple layers of imagery for inspections or mapping projects, 5G is critical in transmitting that data more efficient. For drone racing, 5G makes it possible to live stream high-definition racing footage with minimal latency or delay. Telecom giants including Verizon and Qualcomm are quickly vying to get a piece of the action. Better understanding and use of 5G could aid in areas including emergency response, infrastructure inspection, package delivery, and asset management.
But the technology is very much in its early days still. And the best place to get a taste might be in New York, where the MITRE Engenuity Open Generation 5G Consortium is set to launch the nation’s first 5G unmanned aircraft systems testing range. The MITRE Engenuity Open Generation 5G Consortium is a wide group of startups, industry associations, academics, and government liaisons all of whom are seeking to solve complex 5G challenges.
What to expect from the 5G drone test in New York
With the 5G drone test project, New York will be the first FAA-designated UAS test site with a bespoke 5G network. The broader drone industry as a whole has been seeking a reliable FAA and FCC-approved communications network, and these tests are set to help determine if 5G is a suitable solution for the drone industry. If successful, data gathered in these tests could help prove to the FAA and FCC that the 5G cellular network meets acceptable aviation safety requirements, like what would be required for a wired communication or point-to-point radio link.
Many experts say that current technology, which is typically bluetooth and Wi-Fi, are not reliable enough for safe, long range drone operations.
About New York’s drone corridor
New York has been a leader of sorts in the drone industry, largely thanks to its state-supported 50-mile corridor designed for drone testing, particularly drone traffic management (frequently referred to as UTM). Unsurprisingly, the 5G tests fit in there too.
“Our drone corridor being selected for the launch of the nation’s first 5G unmanned aircraft systems testing range further positions our state — specifically the Central New York and the Mohawk Valley region — as the global leader in the market for this cutting-edge technology,” New York Governor Kathy Hochul said.
The 50-mile drone corridor is largely spearheaded by NUAIR, a New York-based nonprofit organization that provides expertise in unmanned aircraft systems. NUAIR also happens to be a part of Open Generation.
Within the 50-mile corridor, about 100 square miles will be dedicated to 5G beyond-visual-line-of-site testing and long-range flight paths. Its backers say that type of capability is critical to the commercialization of safe and secure unmanned aircraft systems.
New York’s history of drone investment
The state of New York took an early lead in establishing itself in the drone industry. Back in 2016, the state made its initial, $30 million investment to develop the 50-mile flight traffic management system, which runs between Syracuse and Griffiss International Airport in Rome. Since then, the state has invested nearly $70 million in drones.
“Through our continued investment in the drone corridor, we are strengthening and growing our regional economies for generations to come,” Hochul said.
Rome, New York is also home to the New York State Unmanned Aircraft Systems Test Site, one of seven FAA-designated drone test sites in the U.S. That test site is part of the 3,500-acre Griffiss Business and Technology Park, which — beyond drones — also hosts other tech-forward companies in fields including cyber security, quantum computing and manufacturing. Its other drone tests include testing of drone safety features like parachutes, indoor testing of advanced drone technologies, including artificial intelligence-based flight controls and autonomous swarms of small drones.
And even before the 2016 launch, the U.S. Air Force was flying large, unmanned aircraft out of Syracuse Airport.
Most industry advocates are excited about the 5G drone test projects, as well as New York state’s broader adoption of drones.
“New York continues to grow its leadership position in UAS research and development through partnerships with next generation companies like MITRE Engenuity,” said Senator John W. Mannion. “With our region hosting the nation’s first 5G UAS testing range, Central New Yorkers are now developing, building, testing, and bringing to market leading technologies while competing – and winning – in a global industry.