In a proof of concept trial conducted this month at Vodafone’s 5G Mobility Lab in Aldenhoven, Germany, Vodafone and Ericsson used intelligence from the network to produce coverage maps, which enabled the drone to stay in areas with a good signal up in the air. They also collated anonymised mobile user information so the drone could avoid heavily crowded areas down on the ground using information obtained via Vodafone’s ‘Network Exposure Layer’, which is designed to make network data easy to utilise, whilst keeping it secure.
Vodafone can provide these two key pieces of information to trusted third parties via Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) to enable users to quickly and easily plot a pre-determined path for the drone, ensuring constant contact with the control centre, even when out of sight. In this scenario, Vodafone could offer a hospital access, via an API, to non-sensitive network information to send a drone to a scene of an accident.
According to a Vodafone press release, the technological breakthrough will allow professional drone operators, critical national infrastructure providers and emergency services to deliver medical, commercial and industrial supplies safe in the knowledge that they will arrive at the correct destination on time whilst remaining connected to the mobile network.
As part of the trial, Vodafone and Ericsson also explored ways to use the network to control key features of the drone such as being able to improve the definition of the video instantly without impacting other services. This is particularly useful in situations where the video is not required for the entire mission, like being able to inspect a suspension bridge or check on the condition of a mountaineer.
This trial builds on work carried out by Vodafone and Ericsson in 2018, in which they worked to mitigate possible interference from the drone when it received signals from multiple mobile sites.
As part of a separate test simulation, Vodafone in Spain recently flew a lightweight defibrillator to the scene of a cardiac arrest patient using a drone controlled by 5G.
Cellular-connected drones form part of Vodafone’s multi-year journey to redefine its technology architecture on a ‘Telco as a Service’ (‘TaaS’) model, based on platforms that deliver new software, video and data applications at scale.
Vodafone Group’s Chief Technology Officer Johan Wibergh said: “The mobile network is a data-rich asset that can be responsibly and securely utilised to aid society. We are evolving our software-driven, intelligent network into a powerful platform that can deliver new digital services. The responsible use of drones is just one such example but there will be many more.
“APIs will speed up the adoption of drones for commercial and public sector use, bringing many benefits such as being able to assess fires, deliver medical supplies, and help businesses survey hazardous conditions like construction sites, power lines and our own mobile masts, quicker and more safely.”
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