5G technology has become a hot topic for the past years. In Malaysia, the discussion on its deployment was also highlighted in the tabling of Budget 2022. The 5G initiative is expected to propel Malaysia’s economic and innovation sector.
With 5G connectivity nationwide, the strategic move to make the country a drone hub is not far-fetched and very much possible.
During 5G Tech 2021, Kamarul A Muhamed, Founder and Group Chief Executive Officer of Aerodyne Group, shared his thoughts on how 5G would significantly transform the drone industry.
“The biggest challenge that we face in the (drone) industry is connectivity,” said Kamarul. However, he agreed that drones already provided faster, better, cheaper and safer solutions across many industries.
Explaining the limitations of the current drone technology in terms of connectivity, he said: “Drones, as we know today, are still pilot controlled, whether remotely or whether they are on the ground.
“Number two, drones are not connected. You don’t have that persistent connectivity to drones. The drones will talk to the controller on the ground, but there’s no real-time connectivity.
“And of course, because of the speed of connectivity that we have right now, data management is also pretty challenging.”
Evolution of drone technology
According to Kamarul, today’s drone industry is at Generation 7 and about to move into Generation 8. The eighth generation of drone technology will be AI-driven and significantly impact the function of drones.
“Drones that are being used now (Generation 7) already have full autonomy from take-off to landing. But, when you go to Generation 8, you now start thinking of drones as aerial robots rather than just flying devices with smart sensors.
“Moving forward, one of the biggest things that you start seeing is that drones soon will be running from a nest. They are collaboratively working with one another,” explained Kamarul.
Using the security system as an example, he said 5G would be the enabler that allows the system to manage multiple drones running on the nest and constantly improve the operations because of the real-time connectivity.
Other functions that 5G-connected AI-driven drones can offer are as the following:
• Ultra-low latency
• High capacity data transmission
• Network slicing
• Flight Autonomy
• Drone fleet management
• Advanced drone payloads
• Drone data platform
• Real-time analytics
How can 5G enhance drone tech capabilities?
“BVLOS (Beyond Visual Line of Sight) is one of the key enablers today,” said Kamarul, adding that the current drone technology still maintains Visual Line of Sight (VLOS) operation.
“Soon, we are talking about how we can operate them beyond VLOS. This is a very tricky subject. The Civil Aviation Authority of almost all countries will be very worried when you fly with 5G, but 5G will enable this to happen. I’m seeing that 5G will enable BVLOS operations.”
Some features of 5G that would impact the drone industry include:
• Enhanced mobile broadband
• Ultra-reliable low latency communications
• Security features
• Large-scale machine-type communications
• Power efficiency
Kamarul said the usual aircraft system was connected via radio from an operator on the ground related to other elements such as flight controllers.
However, he added: “The moment we have 5G connectivity, then you can do real-time data, make informed decisions and provide intervention in near real-time and that’s a big value that we can get out of this.”
He then shared Aerodyne’s findings regarding the application of 5G-connected drones in agriculture.
“With our 5G-enabled drones, we can already look at a 67 per cent increase in crop yield while eliminating the need for expensive labours, including foreigners, especially under this Covid-19 situation. So, this kind of technology would address that kind of challenge. We’re also looking at reducing carbon footprints.
“If you look at cost savings, it is proven that we can save up to 500 per cent in terms of cost savings and 10 per cent of pesticides use through the optimisation of the system. Most importantly, 5G will enable data-driven operation for your agricultural operation.”
Drone delivery and urban air mobility
Other than agriculture, the industry also looked into the potential of cargo drones and urban air mobility. Kamarul said most, if not 100 per cent, of the urban air mobility would be system driven rather than piloted. It means that good, fast and reliable connectivity is critical. The connectivity is not limited to flight preparations but security features as well.
“Today, there are probably more drones flying than there are aircraft flying at a given time. Soon, we will have another complexity to this. Now, we’re talking about this new mode of eVTOL (electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft) or urban air mobility.
“At any given time, the air traffic controller or UTM, unmanned traffic management system must know exactly the position of the aircraft. At the same time, traffic monitoring of all these aircraft would also require high speed that can only be provided through 5G connectivity,” said Kamarul.
He then touched on the future of the logistics industry, which could be further improved with the existence of 5G-enabled drones. He said in Australia, medications were delivered using drones, and in Africa, the technology was used to transport blood.
“Aerodyne ourselves are also testing blood delivery in Malaysia. The opportunity is just endless when it comes to cargo drones. Not just the big ones but also for e-Commerce.” — @Green