Researchers from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore are looking into how it is possible to use existing high-speed mobile phone networks to track and control drones.
The researchers collaborated with a leading telecommunications company, M1 Ltd, to map the signal strength of the latter’s 4.5G Heterogenous Network, creating a map of which areas would be suited for unmanned aircraft controlled by the network to fly in.
The research project is reliant on a memorandum of understanding between M1, Singapore’s Air Traffic Management Research Institute (ATMRI), and a joint research centre between NTU and the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore.
The project aims to develop technologies that allow the use of the Heterogenous Network to provide command, control and communication capabilities required for safe and efficient drone operations.
Leading this joint research project will be Professor Low Kin Huat, an expert in robotics and UAS from NTU’s School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, and ATMRI senior research fellow Mohamed Faisal Bin Mohamed Salleh.
In many countries, airspace regulations require that all Unmanned Aircraft Systems, colloquially known as drones, be flown within line-of-sight of their operators.
Most conventional drones utilise an unlicensed spectrum such as the 2.4 GHz band, which provides short-range line-of-sight wireless connectivity, but is vulnerable to radio signal interference. A 4.5G Heterogenous Network promises secure, low latency and high throughput connectivity, allowing the drones to fly beyond visual range, even in a crowded urban environment.
The researchers will test piloted and autonomous drone operations beyond line-of-sight using 4.5G HetNet, which could pay the way for a similar use in the future 5G networks.
The drones can also use the network to send real-time data and telemetry information while flying, and the network solutions are able to monitor precisely their aerial locations. This may open the way for unmanned aircraft traffic management solutions eventually, which will improve the versatility of drone flight while ensuring safety and non-interference with other object in the airspace.
According to the Chief Technical Officer of M1, Denis Seek, interest in drones now extends beyond recreational and hobbyist groups into serious commercial applications.
“Mobile technology has the potential to expand and extend the capabilities of drones to enable incredible new applications such as using drones to perform search and rescue operation at remote or inaccessible sites, aerial infrastructure surveillance, delivery of parcels quickly and efficiently, and even new entertainment channels such as first-person view drone race,” he said.