Drones, 5G and smart cities

With drone technology making nothing of a necessarily miraculous rise in the past year, largely thanks to the need to feel the gap left by the imposition of lockdown restrictions to stop the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, Heico Kuhn, the Chief Operations Officer for geospatial software solutions provider, The iGlobe Group looks into how the combination of drone technology and 5G network technology will help make smart cities smarter.

Just about all industries across the globe took a knock in 2020 due the COVID-19 pandemic, not only as a direct result of the virus, but also due to the stringent and disruptive movement restrictions imposed by various governments around the world.

But, while the drone industry was certainly not impermeable to these disruptions, the adversities of 2020 presented many opportunities for the industry, which might have taken a longer time to see the light of day had normal operations been prevailing.

Of course, the world would have got here with drone technology eventually, but I doubt drone technology would have taken the significant strides it did in the last year had there no been an emergency situation that required out of the box solutions because people were not allowed to be near each other again for a while.

Delivery drones especially drone especially took to the skies like a duck to water; covering great distances as they delivered essential drugs, vaccines, COVID-19 equipment and other medication to people that needed them in record time. Zipline alone has just made its one millionth delivery; and other delivery drone makers like Swoop Aero and Wingcopter have also made their mark in various countries.   

Looking forward to 2021, there is still a substantial push in for the development of Smart Cities, with the integration of drone technology in the city skies as one of the eagerly awaited for key result areas. You may have read about the first ever drone corridor in the UK, the Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) plans for the USA city of Los Angeles in California, or about the creation of groups of industry players coming together in the European Union and the UK who will lead research into how to make drone part of everyday traffic in modern day urban air mobility.

Despite the disruptions that have been caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, such revolutionary air traffic management plans for our smart city programmes will depend on the roll out of 5G networks. According to a Nokia and Nokia Bell Labs research, it is estimated that 5G-enabled industries could deliver $8 trillion in value to the global economy by 2030 and more than 72 percent of large companies surveyed plan to invest in 5G over the next 5 years.

This gargantuan growth will undoubtedly put massive pressure on cell tower companies to expand their network capacity. In addition to new locations, tower companies will also need to optimise their current sites, which can prove difficult as often their asset databases will neither be up to date, nor accurate.

Naturally, tower companies would want to remedy this problem by despatching inspectors to various sites, to visually inspect current equipment loading to identify free space. Besides being unsafe, this method of operations has become incredibly cumbersome and often not very accurate.

And this is where the inspection drones have proved their worth to cell tower inspection.

The drone industry has provided an invaluable solution to the telecommunication industry to overcome the afore mentioned difficulties. Using drones, operators can create Digital Twins of tower infrastructure. These models are created a lot quicker than conventional methods, with much higher accuracy.

Hell, Samsung have already proved this in their own roll out missions for 5G network technology in 2020.

The accelerated pace of the 5G rollout will however mean that there will be masses of data collected and if this data is not managed intelligently, new problems will arise. It is for the reason that The iGlobe Group has created the Tower Management Solution (TMS). The TMS is the result of several years of research and development in data acquisition, data processing, asset management and AI technology.

As an overview, the TMS is built on the following components:

The Acquisition Phase

  • Site Identification
  • Digital Twin Flight Planning (iGlobe IP)
  • Drone Acquisition
  • Data upload to Cloud

Data Processing Phase

  • AI Identification (Antenna and Structure)
  • Capture spatial GIS features
  • Populate asset information
  • Generate PDF Reports (loading, defects, site layout, available space) and CAD Drawings

Dashboarding/Portal Phase

  • Publish data and reports the iGlobe TMS Spatial Dashboard

Solutions like the TMS will not only be crucial for the expanding 5G networks, but also for the development of Smart Cities as a whole. Drones have changed the game significantly when it comes to data collection and it is therefore only natural that the way we manage data should change as well.

It is already evident that 2021 will bring much of the same challenges and disruptions we experienced last year, which makes it even more important to continue looking for ways that advanced technology can improve the quality of life of the global community.


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