How can we scale drone applications?

Kerem Ozkan
Soar Robotics
Published in
4 min readDec 16, 2019

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Once considered as sci-fie, the commercial drone industry is now a reality. So far, the drones and autonomous flying vehicles are mostly part of personal or military uses. However, with the improvements in hardware, new use cases have gradually started to become a reality, and the concept of flying autonomous vehicles has begun climbing in the hype cycle.

Aside from their personal and military uses, drones create immediate impacts in many industries such as infrastructure, agriculture, transport, security, media, insurance, telecommunications, and mining.
However, among many possibilities, in the industrial space, we are yet to explore the substantial portion of the opportunities.

The biggest reason for that is the pace of innovation that has failed us to create an end to end solution. And that means turning drones into robots that execute some tasks and autonomously deliver results and actionable intelligence. We can call this the intelligent operations, and the realization of this depends on the correct implementation of connectivity to cloud robotics.

Connectivity Will Enable Safe and Reliable Autonomous Operations

Image credits: Toria (opens in a new window)/ Shutterstock

Drone and aerial vehicle connectivity methods have been built as direct two-way communication between the user and the vehicle, limiting the operational capabilities in terms of flight range, autonomy, intelligence, and, most importantly, safety.

Safety is also the area where the regulations come into play. As generic safety features, FAA Part 107 specifies a set of rules; some of them are below:

  • A single licensed commercial pilot cannot operate more than one vehicle at a given time
  • Vehicles must be flown within the visual line-of-sight of the licensed commercial pilot
  • Flights might be executed at low-altitudes in uncontrolled airspace

These three rules were understandably established under the assumption that an sUAS system would have to be controlled by an operator’s manual inputs. To be able to utilize commercial drones in industrial settings effectively, one has to either obtain a commercial pilot license or hire the commercial pilot themselves. However, this is not effective and efficient even for a simple waypoint mission.

As of 2019, almost all of the commercially available off-the-shelf drones can navigate to waypoints without any operator input, let alone any other autonomy features like collision avoidance, or returning to takeoff coordinates. Instead of going with the cumbersome and inefficient option of piloted operation, we can remotely manage drones and aerial vehicles while they autonomously execute their mission.

Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) is another critical point. For drones to be able to operate Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS), they need seamless coverage, real-time high throughput data transmission, command and control, identification, and regulation.

4G and forthcoming 5G can help enable this by connecting the drone to a more extensive network so that it can be monitored, commanded, and controlled if necessary. Mobile technologies seem to be the go-to solution for current communications problems. Based on established, well-tested standards, mobile networks might evolve into what autonomous and intelligent aerial operations need.

There have been some successful attempts to utilize mobile networks for drone communications effectively. Large telecommunication companies like Vodafone and Ericsson test to track and control drones through the cellular network. These tests are some individual examples of how this technology might be useful in the future. Still, they are far from efficient or even usable, due to the shortcomings of current mobile technologies. Drones have utterly different network requirements, such as bandwidth
allocation(upload/download), coverage, and association. These pose serious challenges and risks for current cellular networks while keeping drones from seamlessly integrating into these networks.

Since mobile networks were designed and optimized to serve humans, they lack many fundamental features to serve drones and aerial vehicles, and limiting the capacities of drones to scale.

Connectivity Will Enable Intelligent Operations

Connecting a drone to a more extensive network provides a lot more than just tracking and control for safe and legal operation. By communicating with a broader system (i.e., the cloud), drones gain the ability to access the real-time or accumulated robotic intelligence that they can consume to become smarter.

With proper connectivity options and tools, drones become invaluable assets for industrial workflows.

In Soar Robotics, we develop the next generation communications stack that provides reliable and secure communication links for drones and aerial vehicles.

To learn more about what we are building for creating the future of aerial autonomy, Subscribe to us on Medium and subscribe to our Newsletter.

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Kerem Ozkan
Soar Robotics

Partner at Calide / Soar Robotics / Soarchain/ Ph.D. in Cognitive Sciences / Entrepreneur and Angel Investor