Skyward to test cellular-connected drones for the FAA

29 June 2021
The examination of cellular networks in drones will help to develop standards for operations for BVLOS over commercial wireless networks. Source: Skyward

To further the testing of beyond the visual line of sight (BVLOS) technology in drones, Skyward, a Verizon company, will conduct a pilot project using cellular-connected drones with support from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Under the agreement with the FAA, the research will examine cellular communication networks for command and control (C2) within the National Airspace System. The three-year agreement will allow the two groups to propose standards for operations including BVLOS and over commercial wireless spectrum.

The data and information collected will help inform discussions regarding C2 and BVLOS operations for the FAA’s BVLOS Advisory and Rulemaking Committee (ARC).

Currently, most commercial drones use an unlicensed spectrum, restricting the range and subjecting themselves to interference. Using Verizon’s 4G LTE coverage, the pilot project will provide more opportunities for drone operations.

The project will leverage Verizon’s wireless network and inform the two groups about the spectrum used in the C2 link between the drone operator and drone.

Importance of BVLOS

BVLOS allows drone operators to conduct complex drone operations where the device flies beyond a point where the operator can see it. This could be through a camera attached to the drone or for autonomous flight operations without a pilot.

While some companies are currently testing BVLOS using 4G wireless networks, the advent of 5G, the next-generation wireless technology, may accelerate the development of BVLOS as the technology would allow for intelligent identification and tracking of objects through cloud computing. One such project has already started with Ericsson and Australian telecom Optus with the first teleoperated drone flight.

The FAA has been increasing its testing of BVLOS technology, offering permits to UPS to test drone flights with retail drug chain CVS in North Carolina for prescription deliveries. Volansi was selected by the University of North Dakota to test a statewide BVLOS network with FAA approval. And Iris Automation recently agreed to participate in the FAA’s BVLOS ARC program.

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