Vodafone has completed the first ever UK drone delivery over a 4G mobile network, rather than a radio link, using a portable 4G router.
A Christmas drone dressed up as a sleigh made a short 800-metre flight carrying festive treats to Portland Bill coast watch, on the Dorset coast.
Vodafone touted the Christmas drone delivery as demonstrating the extent of its 4G coverage. The drone was modified to allow it to be flown using Vodafone’s 4G network, the company said in an email to Computer Business Review.
“A system was installed on the aircraft to enable it to be able to receive commands from the ground station over Vodafone’s 4G network.”
“The Ground station (laptop) at the landing location is connected to the internet via the 4G Vodafone Gigacube which provides mobile Wi-Fi. From the ground station, commands are sent to the drone over the 4G network in the form of GPS coordinates to give the aircraft a flight path to the landing site. The Drone takes off and flies the automated flight plan to the landing site.”
Anne Sheehan, Enterprise Director, Vodafone Business said in an emailed release: “Technology plays an increasingly important role in connecting people and businesses over Christmas.”
“Flying a drone over 4G for the first time gives us a glimpse into the future; 4G or 5G-enabled drones will be used in a range of sectors, from agriculture and retail to construction and energy. We are helping businesses get ready for an exciting connected future, supported by our most reliable network ever
Around 76,000 drones are expected to be in British skies by 2030, creating some 628,000 jobs, according to PwC.[pdf]
Vodafone is working on various drone projects including trials of air traffic control drone tracking and safety technology.
The company said in a release: “The low latency of 5G will also open up new opportunities for using drones in more densely populated areas. 5G technology will make the drones more responsive, which is essential to avoid buildings and other obstructions in built-up areas.”
European regulators meanwhile are working on a drone traffic management system prototype, under Europe’s Clear Air Situation for UAS (or CLASS) project.
CLASS, funded under the Horizon 2020 funding round, aims to help mature technologies needed for surveillance of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) traffic.