BVLOS Drones with 5G Connectivity
Israel, 16 June 2022
As unmanned aviation becomes more and more integrated into everyday life and the number of drones in the skies continues to increase, effective management of these aircraft at scale becomes even more critical. This goes double for BVLOS (beyond visual line of sight) operations, which are essential for unlocking the next phase of commercial acceleration within the drone industry.
A number of companies have risen to the challenge, developing both hardware and software solutions that will enable safe and scalable integration of commercial drones into the urban landscape and national airspace systems. One such company is High Lander, who provide innovative software products for the management and mission control of autonomous UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles).
High Lander’s products, which have been deployed throughout Europe, Asia, and North and South America, include:
Mission Control – an all-in-one software-based operations centre for drone fleets, providing everything needed for intuitive control of all aspects of the mission from take-off through to landing
Universal UTM – a next-generation unmanned traffic management solution for controlling the airspace in which autonomous drone operations take place
Unlocking BVLOS missions for civil and commercial drones
High Lander’s vision is to provide one of the crucial building blocks that will enable drones to operate autonomously over the horizon in a seamless and completely safe manner. Their mission planning solutions serve a number of different market sectors, including:
Public Safety – situational awareness for first responders, enabling quicker and more accurate decision-making
Security & Surveillance – enabling co-ordinated patrolling of multiple autonomous drones
Delivery – collision avoidance and dynamic flight planning for drone delivery networks
Mapping & Surveying – more efficient data collection, lower costs and increased productivity for surveyors and geospatial professionals
Industrial Inspection – simplifying complex inspection operations, enhancing safety and reducing downtime
Precision Agriculture – automatic scheduling and autonomous data gathering to ensure optimal crop health for maximum yield
Cellular connectivity has the potential to be a key component of BVLOS operations, providing a solution to range and interference issues that may be encountered with traditional RF datalinks. However, High Lander struggled to achieve optimal results while testing their drone management products with 4G LTE.
The available bandwidth with LTE was often unstable, with data rates fluctuating down to levels that would even drop below 5 Mbps. This resulted in High Lander’s drones transmitting a poor quality video feed back to the ground control station, which in turn limited the results that could be achieved from image processing. The end result was that many critical aspects of the mission, such as area mapping, target identification, and object tracking, could not be carried out successfully.
The solution – reliable connectivity with 5G support
Elsight is a leading developer of high-reliability drone connectivity solutions, with a particular focus on enabling BVLOS flight for commercial applications. The company’s Halo platform has been selected by a variety of drone manufacturers and operators around the world who are seeking regulatory approval for such applications, and has achieved over 20,000 hours of flight testing under challenging conditions.
Due to High Lander's work in mission control and drone management for BVLOS operations, the two companies felt that they had a close natural fit, and agreed to enter into a partnership. Both Elsight and High Lander are committed to furthering the state of the art within the BVLOS drone industry, and select partners who share this vision and are looking to be a part of the efforts to bring this crucial market to maturity. Due to this shared ethos, the partners believed that the collaboration would benefit both companies, in addition to demonstrating the potential of BVLOS flight.
Elsight’s Halo connectivity solution, provided here in the OEM chipset form factor, enabled High Lander's drones to utilise up to four unique cellular datalinks from multiple carriers. The drones gained the advantages of 5G, and the mission controllers at High Lander felt safe in the knowledge that Halo would seamlessly switch to a backup link if connectivity was lost.
High Lander embedded the 5G-capable Halo platform into both its Mission Control and Universal UTM software, and developed effective algorithms that analyzed and calculated the best flight paths according to signal strength. The integrated solution also benefited greatly from Halo’s advanced automatic traffic balancing, which delivers maximum possible bandwidth for the data-intensive video streaming operations.
Thanks to the collaboration between the two companies, High Lander’s drones were able to harness the benefits of 5G connectivity, taking advantage of data rates of over 10 Gbps. This provided a greater than threefold improvement over LTE, allowing the Mission Control software to receive high-resolution video of unmatched quality, which could then be processed successfully thanks to the sharper detail.
The Universal UTM software also benefited from the boost in data rates, increasing the ability to utilise cloud services and access more information in a shorter time.
The integration and testing of the Halo platform with High Lander’s drones culminated in a successful demonstration BVLOS mission at the Israel National Drone Initiative (INDI) workshop, during which 4K video streaming was achieved. High Lander also deployed a proprietary dynamic algorithm that broke down and reconstructed data with AES256-level encryption.
"Elsight and Halo share the same vision of BVLOS, and mission planning is one of the vital building blocks of drone BVLOS operations. We’re glad to work with High lander, and other Elsight partners encompassing all aspects of BVLOS operations, to bring this vision to fruition. High Lander's abilities to manage autonomous drones on BVLOS missions and the entire airspace is a key to our purpose - to make BVLOS flights possible" – Ben Gross, Director of Marketing at Elsight.
In addition to improving bandwidth and data rates, Halo and its 5G connectivity provided a number of other advantages.
5G, with its latency of less than 10 milliseconds, brought a significant improvement over LTE's delays of 50 to 150 milliseconds. This allowed both Mission Control and Universal UTM to get closer to real-time monitoring and controlling capabilities, as well as enabling faster autonomous decision making for drone command and control.
In order to maximise the bandwidth and performance potential of LTE, the drones used by High Lander had to be equipped with a relatively bulky four-SIM card communications module. The Halo OEM solution was smaller and around 75% lighter, freeing up some of the SWaP (size, weight and power) budget of the drones.
5G allows High Lander to implement network slicing, which involves the creation of virtual networks that can be dedicated to specific needs. This enables new and highly useful capabilities, including prioritising the connections for certain critical missions such as first responders over others, and the ability to assign different latencies to each subnetwork in order to minimise the impact of potential overloading. 5G also provides built-in encryption for greater security and data integrity.
Finally, 5G allows a much greater number of connected devices, at 1 million per square kilometre compared to LTE's 250. This allows Mission Control and Universal UTM to provide better and broader coverage of more UAVs simultaneously.
Cellular connectivity will be a key factor in unlocking the full potential of the BVLOS market. However, the advanced features of 5G will need to be harnessed in order to achieve the stability, latency and data rates required for next-generation commercial and civil drone applications.
The collaboration between Elsight and High Lander has shown how this might be achieved, and highlights the dramatic improvement in drone management and operational capabilities when upgrading from 4G LTE to 5G.
"As a leading platform provider for managing drone airspace and missions, Elsight’s 5G support is helping us get much closer to fully autonomous BVLOS capabilities." - Alon Abelson, CEO and co-founder at High Lander