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12.20.2019Business Tech

How Verizon 5G Ultra Wideband is lifting drone technology to the next level

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The next generation in wireless connectivity will supercharge drone operations for many industries, pushing functionality and utility to new heights.

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From factories to retail spaces, city streets to our own homes, you don’t have to look far to see 5G’s boundless potential. However, to catch sight of one of the most exciting emerging use cases, you do have to look up.

The popularity of drones has exploded since 2016, when the FAA legalized them for commercial use. Today there are nearly 1.5 million federally registered drones in the U.S. and more than 158,000 licensed drone pilots. In a short time, the technology has proven itself indispensable to scientists, farmers, surveyors and utility workers, not to mention recreational flyers. But the future of drones—one involving full-scale integration to perform critical, high-level tasks—requires the next generation of wireless connectivity.

Harnessing the ultra-low latency and higher bandwidth of Verizon 5G Ultra Wideband, drones have the potential to engage in data collection, transmission and near-real-time analysis at a truly transformational level. When it comes to the future of drones and 5G, the sky’s the limit.

Drone technology powered by 5G

Drones go places people can’t, and drones with cameras can see things that otherwise may go unnoticed. They’re more nimble and cost-effective than helicopters and airplanes, and they can be easily integrated into existing workflows, advantages that Verizon enterprise customers are beginning to consider for fleet management, inventory monitoring, volumetrics and infrastructure inspection. The widespread adoption of 5G is now poised to open more doors to those benefits.

“Today only 10% of major enterprises have a drone program, and none of them are connected to a wireless network,” says Mariah Scott, president of Skyward, a Verizon company that specializes in helping organizations launch and run safe, efficient drone operations. “We knew early on that connectivity would be critical for drones to truly transform our world. And now 5G Ultra Wideband will usher in a new era in aviation, where we connect and integrate drones into the national airspace.”

To this end, Verizon is seeking to be the first carrier to connect one million drone flights to the 5G network, allowing drones to become a key part of how companies reimagine their business in a 5G world. In a related effort, Skyward recently unveiled advanced airspace intelligence for drone pilots, including essential ground intelligence and 3D views of more than one million vertical obstacles.

Together, Verizon and Skyward are helping to comprehensively map airspace and update drone flight regulations, in anticipation of a future in which low-altitude airspace will need to be managed to safely and efficiently accommodate diverse aircraft.

Drone technology: Ready for takeoff

Armed with this critical safety information, along with the high speed and low latency of Verizon 5G Ultra Wideband, drone utilization is expected to, pardon the pun, skyrocket. Pilots should be able to operate drones remotely, even from thousands of miles away, and actionable insights can be relayed in virtual real time.

Now 5G Ultra Wideband will usher in a new era in aviation, where we connect and integrate drones into the national airspace.

– Mariah Scott, president of Skyward, a Verizon company

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What’s more, thanks to mobile edge computing (MEC), more complex functions can be performed nearer to the user and away from centralized servers. By shortening the distance data has to travel, drones will be able to perform more latency-sensitive tasks. As a knock-on benefit, because bulky processors can be offloaded, drones have the potential to get smaller and faster, with extended battery life, so they can stay in the air and on the job longer.

“When drone flights are connected to the Verizon 5G network, we will have digital access to the physical world at scale,” says Scott.

For utility companies, the 5G drone advantage could mean the coordinated deployment of hundreds of drones to inspect thousands of miles of transmission lines for faster repair and power restoration. For engineers and city planners, 5G could enable advanced traffic and pedestrian flow analysis and real-time visualization of data trends, resulting in smarter designs and safer cities.

In factories and warehouses, 5G drones employing computer vision could identify and scan actual products instead of barcodes, increasing operational efficiency, reducing loss and freeing up human workers to engage in higher-touch tasks.

For construction companies, 5G could allow a UAS manager to deploy drones from the office to remotely monitor progress at dozens of job sites in near-real time. And for first responders, 5G-powered drones could apply artificial intelligence to livestream footage to assist in locating victims of natural disasters. They could also streamline aid drops and mass evacuation efforts during emergencies, resulting in more positive outcomes and more lives saved.

Aiming higher for the future of drones

In the near future, the question won’t be “What can drones be used for?” but “What can’t they be used for?” Imagine an online order drone-delivered in minutes to your home or even a massive commuter drone streamlining public transportation in your city. It might sound outlandish, but it’s the type of dream that could become a reality with the help of 5G.

“These aerial robots will also transport us to work and ship cargo and vital supplies to remote locations, as well as to our doorsteps,” says Scott. “What would your life look like if you could take to the sky and never be stuck in traffic again?”

Verizon 5G Ultra Wideband provides innovators with an open invitation, not simply to change how we do certain things, but to rethink how we do all of it. The next step: onward—and upward.