Amazon has just come up with a scheme where it plans to use cell towers to charge its delivery drones. Cell towers aren’t the only structures that Amazon is looking at, however. They are also considering things such as church steeples, power poles, and buildings, among others. There can also be stand-alone structures in areas where no high-points exist.
The scheme is interesting. If this works the way Amazon envisions it, their drones could be a system all to itself. This would allow Amazon to deliver nationwide, if the loftiest of plans come to fruition. The drones would not only use these refuel/recharge stations to top off the tank but also as communications points as well, such as homing beacons and automated routing and delivery instructions.
However, to make this work will require the blessing of the both the FAA and FCC. Drone package delivery isn’t sanctioned by the FAA and RF-emissions for such drone use isn’t either.
One angle that hasn’t been talked about is how this will play into 5G and the IoX. These drones come under the 500 foot ceiling umbrella. And, many of these refuel/recharge point may be a whole lot lower. With two-way communications on board, how is that going to interface with things like small cells and other 5G/IoX communications. On top of that, Walmart is looking at a similar scheme for delivery, even using the Amazon’s refuel/recharge stations. And I am sure these two are not the only entities thinking about this in one fashion or another.
Many of the 5G and IoX devices are going to be low-power and many will be at altitude where these (and other drones) will be operating. Right now the worry is more about the drones being a physical problem than an RF problem. But in the long run, that should be something the industry should be talking about.
Led by Art Pregler, AT&T has launched a national unmanned aerial vehicle program, using drones to perform aerial inspections of its cell towers. The carrier held live drone demonstrations at the SHAPE AT&T Tech Expo Conference, held July 15-16, in San Francisco.
“This week, we reached another milestone by launching the trial phase of our national drone program,” wrote John Donovan, chief strategy officer and group president – AT&T Technology and Operations. “We expect our experiences will lay the foundation for new, exciting drone applications.” The drone team brings decades of military, flight control and tech experience to the job, he added.
By using drones, the carrier will be able to conduct cell tower inspections more quickly and safely and access previously inaccessible areas of a tower.
“Connecting drones to our nationwide LTE network lets us capture data and feed it directly to our systems. In turn, this can allow us to make changes to our network in real time,” Donovan wrote. “We anticipate this will allow us to improve our customers’ experience by enhancing our cell sites faster than ever before.”
But drones usage in the future may go well beyond tower inspection. Possible uses include Flying COWs (Cell on Wings) providing LTE coverage at large events or even rapid disaster response. A Flying COW may even be able to provide coverage when a vehicle is unable to drive to a designated area.
In addition, AT&T’s IoT team, led by Chris Penrose, researching how in-flight drones can use the LTE network to send large amounts of data in real-time to benefit insurance, farming and even delivery service companies.
“We’re moving toward the future by pushing the envelope on what’s technologically possible for drones,” Donovan concluded.
In a highly anticipated proceeding, the FAA has released Small Unmanned Aircraft Rule Part 107, which will expand the universe of companies serving the wireless by removing the pilot’s license requirement. Future drone pilots will be certified using an online testing program. Additionally, a visual observer may be used but is not required.
With the new rule, drone companies will no longer have to file for Section 333 exemptions, which were subject to delays at the agency because of high volumes.
This will facilitate new companies offering drone-based services, which is good for the innovation in this space. But as competition drives prices down, carriers will need should make sure that that the company behind the drone packs the engineering and software expertise to provide value.
The new rules allow drones to fly 400 feet horizontally and vertically of a structure. This expands their use to any public safety or broadcast tower, as well as cell antennas mounted on tall buildings.
The weight of unmanned aircraft to less than 55 pounds and their operation to visual line-of-sight (VLOS) rules.
“At all times the small unmanned aircraft must remain close enough to the remote pilot in command and the person manipulating the flight controls of the small UAS for those people to be capable of seeing the aircraft with vision unaided by any device other than corrective lenses,” according to a summary of Part 107.
Other operational limitations include:
• Maximum groundspeed of 100 mph (87 knots).
• Minimum weather visibility of 3 miles from control station.
• Operations in Class B, C, D and E airspace are allowed with the required ATC permission.
• Operations in Class G airspace are allowed without ATC permission.
• No person may act as a remote pilot in command or VO for more than one unmanned aircraft operation at one time.
• No operations from a moving aircraft.
• No operations from a moving vehicle unless the operation is over a sparsely populated area.
• No careless or reckless operations.
• No carriage of hazardous materials.
The National Association of Tower Erectors (NATE) has released a new resource, “Unmanned Aerial Systems Operations Around Vertical Communications Infrastructure,” to educate the wireless infrastructure industry and create guidelines for operating small Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS).
The safety document is a by-product of collaboration between the NATE UAS Committee and other prominent representatives from the commercial UAS industry. The intended focus of this document is on small UAS operations around wireless infrastructure, cellular towers, broadcast towers and electrical distribution towers.
“NATE is excited to offer this informative resource to the industry in order to provide important UAS operational and regulatory information to the workers and stakeholders in the communications tower industry,” stated Executive Director Todd Schlekeway. “This is the first of several best practices documents the NATE UAS Committee ultimately plans to develop as further regulatory clarity emerges surrounding UAS technologies,” added Schlekeway.
The NATE Unmanned Aerial Systems Operations Around Vertical Communications Infrastructure document includes UAS utilization guidelines associated with topics such as Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requirements, flight operations, training provisions, documentation, safety reporting, emergency procedures, weather requirements, noise abatement and hours of operation. The NATE UAS Committee prioritized the safety of tower technicians, ground personnel, the general public and flight operations when developing this resource.
“The entire NATE UAS Committee is proud of what we produced to safely introduce the use of Unmanned Aerial Systems technology to the tower industry,” said committee member Greg Emerick, EVP of Business Development for Sentera. “All of us are proud of our leadership role and anticipate expanding and updating this document as technology and regulations change.”
The Unmanned Aerial Systems Operations Around Vertical Communications Infrastructure document is available to the industry as a free resource and accessible to be downloaded on NATE’s website HERE.
The NATE UAS Committee continues to actively participate and collaborate with federal agencies, policy makers, regulators and stakeholders to ensure that the wireless infrastructure industry’s priorities remain at the forefront of the conversation as future decisions are made regarding this technology. The UAS Committee has pledged to be a source of information by providing timely updates to NATE members and industry stakeholders as key developments emerge in the landscape surrounding Unmanned Aerial Systems.
For information regarding NATE, visit www.natehome.com today.
DALLAS — May 27, 2016 — One of the newest additions to maintaining wireless infrastructure has been the utilization of drone technology, which was on full view on the show floor at this year’s Wireless Infrastructure Show. This is one of the more exciting vectors for the use of drones. They are being deployed in a variety of applications to examine the wireless structure infrastructure. Drones now make it possible to examine all types if wireless installations, both in and out of building.
The amount and diversity of data that a drone can provide is orders of magnitude higher than what has been possible with manual inspection – and at greatly reduced cost to site owners. The data collected by drones is truly a tool that will change the inspection landscape.
Companies, such as Talon Aerolytics, have developed remarkable solutions that can capture extremely high-resolution 3D images and video that can spot anomalies, wildlife, environmental effects and many other problems, issues, or anomalies that have the potential to compromise the site and the environment around it. This data can be geo-referenced with date, location and time stamps to precisely pinpoint the occurrences. One of the most valuable assets of drone technology is that the data that drones can capture and store can have a remarkable effect on the capex and opex, as well as to reduce the risk to life and limb of the otherwise physical inspections that are part of site analysis and maintenance.
Expect to see drones become a common sight around a variety of communications infrastructures.