Verizon long range drone project set to launch in Oregon

Expect big things to come out of this latest operation from telecom giant Verizon. A Verizon long range drone project is set to advance ongoing testing — this time at the Pendleton Unmanned Aerial Systems Range.

The drone range in Pendleton, Oregon, is one of just a small handful of Federal Aviation Administration-designated test ranges, and is located in the northeast corner of the state of Oregon. Verizon’s drone arm, Skyward, is based in Portland, Oregon, which is a roughly 3-hour drive from Pendleton.

At the Pendleton drone range, Verizon Robotics (which is a division of the company most famously known for providing you with cell service) will test various proof-of-concept capabilities primarily around long range robotics. Pendleton, which is a relatively low-density, small city with vast amounts of open space, is set to be an ideal location to host the Verizon long range drone project. The Pendleton Range itself has more than 14,000 square miles of FAA-approved airspace for advanced drone flight operations and testing. Even pre-Verizon long range drone project, the site regularly hosts between 400 and 1,000 drone operations per month.

“The operations we are deploying at Pendleton Range will help advance R&D initiatives for customers,” said Mariah Scott, president, Verizon Robotics in a prepared statement. “The range’s location helps create a local innovation testbed that can emulate real-life conditions, helping to bring products and services to market faster.” 

Photo courtesy of Verizon Robotics

A big component of the latest Verizon long range drone project will include training Pendleton Range staff to control what’s being referred to as “a rapid-response command mobile unit vehicle.” That vehicle will be able to deploy messages, applications and advanced computing solutions to both robots in the air and on the ground.

Being chosen to host the Verizon long range drone project signals a potentially big opportunity for Pendleton and the broader state of Oregon to have a more pronounced impact in the drone world.

“The Pendleton Range is excited to be working with Verizon Robotics to provide state-of-the-art situational awareness technology to one of the busiest UAV test ranges in the U.S.,” said Darryl Abling, who manages the Pendleton UAS Range, in a prepared statement. “This investment will help to develop technologies and processes that will help accelerate overall aviation innovation as robotics become more integrated into the National Airspace System.”

Verizon has long sought to be an early adopter in the drone industry. Way back in 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. The purpose? To allow drones to connect to the internet in flight for streaming videos and other data to the ground. While that didn’t exactly take off, Verizon has still had its hands in plenty of aspects of the drone industry including demonstrating proof of concepts for Remote ID.

A pivotal moment for Verizon’s drone ambitions was when it acquired Skyward in 2017. Just last summer, Verizon’s Skyward signed an agreement with the FAA to test cellular-connected drones intended to enable more 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. Other projects have included  testing 5G integration for drone delivery to The Villages, a retirement community in Florida.

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