T-Mobile’s 5G mobile network supported what has been called the longest unmanned beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) drone operation.
During the 77-mile flight from Childress to Aspermont, Tex., the drone inspected vital infrastructure, including power lines, railroads and bridges. according to Valmont Industries, which partnered with T-Mobile on the filght.
Valmont describes itself as the creator of “vital infrastructure,” with a focus on agricultural productivity.
In the drone flight, a Harris Aerial H6E drone was equipped with a Sony A7RM5 camera connected to T-Mobile. Harris Aerial’s drone and Valmont’s proprietary payload are fully National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) compliant.
According to a press release, drone flights such as this are important due to their ability to reach remote or inaccessible areas more efficiently and to quickly collect and share data.
The drone’s cameras and sensors capture high-resolution video and imagery that can be used for near real-time analysis, monitoring and critical decision-making. The T-Mobile network supported this connectivity even in the rural areas covered in the drone flight, Valmont said.
This means that the drones could be used to conduct necessary inspections, eliminating the need to send people out to the field, which is costlier and results in safety risk, according to the press release.
BVLOS capabilities are expected to enable drones to be used more extensively than ever before, particularly since the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is granting more waivers for BVLOS drone operations. Valmont said it was one of the first companies to receive such a waiver.
Valmont plans to offer drone-in-a-box (DiaB) services nationwide in 2024. This will enable those needing aerial inspection services to “order a drone, unbox it and watch it run its inspection while a Valmont pilot flies it remotely virtually anywhere in the U.S.,” Valmont said.
The 77-mile flight pushes the average distance of UAS inspections from less than 20 miles per day to more than 60.
“Range has been a hurdle in the drone inspection space, until now,” said Jake Lahmann, UAS manager at Valmont, in today’s release. “To be able to get this kind of range in a single drone flight is really going to revolutionize the way the industry approaches infrastructure inspections.”
The successful flight pushes T-Mobile further into the drone support space. The carrier announced in April that it would be supporting window washing drones used for high rises.
“5G was built to make life easier,” Ulf Ewaldsson, T-Mobile president of technology, said in a prepared statement. “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 are making it possible for entire industries to revolutionize the way they work.”