@ green | January-February , 2022
Driven by drones
5G will bring significant changes to the drone industry
BY FATIHAH MANAF
5G technology has become a hot topic for the past years . In Malaysia , the discussion on its deployment was also highlighted in the tabling of Budget 2022 . The 5G initiative is expected to propel Malaysia ’ s economic and innovation sector .
With 5G connectivity nationwide , the strategic move to make the country a drone hub is not far-fetched and very much possible .
During 5G Tech 2021 , Kamarul A Muhamed , Founder and Group Chief Executive Officer of Aerodyne Group , shared his thoughts on how 5G would significantly transform the drone industry .
“ The biggest challenge that we face in the ( drone ) industry is connectivity ,” said Kamarul . However , he agreed that
drones already provided faster , better , cheaper and safer solutions across many industries .
Explaining the limitations of the current drone technology in terms of connectivity , he said : “ Drones , as we know today , are still pilot controlled , whether remotely or whether they are on the ground .
“ Number two , drones are not connected . You don ’ t have that persistent connectivity to drones . The drones will talk to the controller on the ground , but there ’ s no real-time connectivity .
“ And of course , because of the speed of connectivity that we have right now , data management is also pretty challenging .”
Evolution of drone technology
According to Kamarul , today ’ s drone industry is at Generation 7 and about to move into Generation 8 . The eighth generation of drone technology will be AI-driven and significantly impact the function of drones .
“ Drones that are being used now ( Generation 7 ) already have full autonomy from take-off to landing . But , when you go to Generation 8 , you now start thinking of drones as aerial robots rather than just flying devices with smart sensors .
“ Moving forward , one of the biggest things that you start seeing is that drones soon will be running from a nest . They are collaboratively working with one another ,” explained Kamarul .
Using the security system as an example , he said 5G would be the enabler that allows the system to manage multiple drones running on the nest and constantly improve the operations because of the real-time connectivity .
Other functions that 5G-connected AI-driven drones can offer are as the following :
• Ultra-low latency
• High capacity data transmission
• Network slicing
• Flight Autonomy
• Drone fleet management
• Advanced drone payloads
• Drone data platform
• Real-time analytics
How can 5G enhance drone tech capabilities ?
“ BVLOS ( Beyond Visual Line of Sight ) is one of the key enablers today ,” said Kamarul , adding that the current drone technology still maintains Visual Line of Sight ( VLOS ) operation .
“ Soon , we are talking about how we can operate them beyond VLOS . This is a very tricky subject . The Civil Aviation Authority of almost all countries will be very worried when you fly with 5G , but
5G will enable this to happen . I ’ m seeing that 5G will enable BVLOS operations .”
Some features of 5G that would impact the drone industry include :
• Enhanced mobile broadband
• Ultra-reliable low latency communications
• Security features
• Large-scale machine-type communications
• Power efficiency Kamarul said the usual aircraft system was connected via radio from an operator on the ground related to other elements such as flight controllers .
However , he added : “ The moment we have 5G connectivity , then you can do real-time data , make informed decisions and provide intervention in near realtime and that ’ s a big value that we can get out of this .”
He then shared Aerodyne ’ s findings regarding the application of 5G-connected drones in agriculture .
“ With our 5G-enabled drones , we can already look at a 67 per cent increase in crop yield while eliminating the need for expensive labours , including foreigners , especially under this Covid-19 situation . So , this kind of technology would address that kind of challenge . We ’ re also looking at reducing carbon footprints .
“ If you look at cost savings , it is proven that we can save up to 500 per cent in terms of cost savings and 10 per cent of pesticides use through the optimisation of the system . Most importantly , 5G will enable data-driven operation for your agricultural operation .”
Drone delivery and urban air mobility
Other than agriculture , the industry also looked into the potential of cargo drones and urban air mobility . Kamarul said most , if not 100 per cent , of the urban air mobility would be system driven rather than piloted . It means that good , fast and reliable connectivity is critical . The connectivity is not limited to flight preparations but security features as well .
“ Today , there are probably more drones flying than there are aircraft flying at a given time . Soon , we will have another complexity to this . Now , we ’ re talking about this new mode of eVTOL ( electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft ) or urban air mobility .
“ At any given time , the air traffic controller or UTM , unmanned traffic management system must know exactly the position of the aircraft . At the same time , traffic monitoring of all these aircraft would also require high speed that can only be provided through 5G connectivity ,” said Kamarul .
He then touched on the future of the logistics industry , which could be further improved with the existence of 5G-enabled drones . He said in Australia , medications were delivered using drones , and in Africa , the technology was used to transport blood .
“ Aerodyne ourselves are also testing blood delivery in Malaysia . The opportunity is just endless when it comes to cargo drones . Not just the big ones but also for e-Commerce .” — @ Green
Moving forward , one of the biggest things that you start seeing is that drones soon will be running from a nest . They are collaboratively working with one another .” – Kamarul A Muhamed