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Qualcomm, AT&T get together to test mobe networks for delivery drone control

Can LTE cut it for real-time pizza delivery?

By Richard Chirgwin, 7 Sep 2016

What drones need is 4G connectivity, Qualcomm reckons, and it's put together a deal with AT&T to prove it.

Fair enough, we suppose: if Facebook or Amazon or Domino's want genuine business cases for drone deliveries (rather than stunt-demos for credulous journalists) they'll need some kind of connectivity and 4G networks are already just about everywhere.

The two hope their work demonstrates connectivity that works well enough to see regulators relax line-of-sight operation rules relaxed, so they can fly drones and verify their operations without having to eyeball them in flight.

Hence the 4G LTE agreement between Qualcomm and AT&T. You can't pack enough brains into a small drone for it to operate autonomously. It needs a decent network connection back to the computer controlling it, with no dropouts thank you, or those pesky humans will never be tossed onto the scrap-heap.

As Qualcomm's canned statement says, the wireless network drones will use will need “ubiquitous coverage, high-speed mobile support, robust security, high reliability and quality of service (QoS).”

There's also the business of complying with regulators' rules about proximity to air traffic, since nobody wants 10 kg of drone-plus-book to get sucked into a jet engine. The chip-designer says its San Diego campus includes testing operations in controlled airspace.

The data the two outfits gather in the tests will also feed into relevant specs for 5G, Qualcomm says.

Qualcomm's contribution to this will come in the form of its Snapdragon Flight development platform. ®

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