US carrier T-Mobile has provided 5G connectivity for an unmanned drone flight going beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS), for a distance of over 120 kilometres. Nebraska-based Valmont Industries – which makes irrigation equipment, windmill support structures, and traffic steel utility poles – managed the test flight, and called it an “industry-first”. The full flight distance, carrying a payload of high-resolution cameras and IoT monitoring sensors, was 124 kilometres (77 miles).
Valmont Industries has an interest to provide drone-based maintenance inspections – for “nearly any type of infrastructure, agriculture, solar and wind farms, power lines, disaster relief areas and more”. BVLOS drone flights afford a way for organisations to reach remote or inaccessible areas more efficiently, and to quickly collect and share data and support real-time analysis, monitoring and critical decision-making. The industrial market, particularly, has drone based inspections pegged to replace costly and sometimes dangerous manual operations.
In the US, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is granting more waivers for BVLOS drone operations. Valmont, in receipt of an FAA waiver, ran the drone test non-stop from Childress to Aspermont, in Texas, in three hours, inspecting infrastructure such as power lines, railroads, and bridges. It used a Harris Aerial H6E drone equipped with a 5G-connected Sony A7RM5 camera. A statement said: “This task was three times faster than conventional methods, while using less than two gallons of fuel.”
The average flight for drone-based unmanned aircraft systems (UASs) is around 32 kilometres (20 miles) per day; the Texas flightpath was almost four times the average distance, and retained a 5G data transfer across its length, even as the drone navigated rural Texas. It continued: “The flight proves that drones are a viable, safe, and efficient alternative to helicopters for infrastructure.” Valmont wants to offer ‘drone-in-a-box’ services nationwide in 2024, it said. There were a couple of mentions of ‘revolution’ in the supplied quotes, as follow.
Jake Lahmann, UAS manager at Valmont, said: “Range has been a hurdle in the drone inspection space, until now. To be able to get this kind of range in a single drone flight is really going to revolutionise the way the industry approaches infrastructure inspections.”
Ulf Ewaldsson, president of technology at T-Mobile, said: “5G was built to make life easier. Whether it’s connecting a person on their smartphone or improving long-range drone infrastructure inspections, there is no doubt that the reach and speed of T-Mobile 5G is making it possible for entire industries to revolutionise the way they work.”