Mobile World Congress: Sky’s the limit for high-flying drones

Having fundamentally changed almost every aspect of modern life with their innovations over the decades, technologists are increasingly looking to the heavens for their next challenge, writes Peter O’Dwyer

Unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, continue to fascinate the technology community given the growing world of possibilities they present to consumers and businesses.

As the burgeoning drone scene evolves, much remains to be done before the vehicles reach the performance levels consumers expect.

Two industry heavyweights have signalled their intent to step into the breach and improve connectivity issues at the Mobile World Congress with US wireless carrier AT&T and Intel striking up a partnership that it is hoped will push the boundaries of possibility by allowing drones to travel higher and further than ever.

Connecting drones over a long-term evolution network will help address many challenges the sector faces, including safety and security concerns, real-time communications and potential interference with traditional aircraft, the companies said at the Intel Drone Zone in Barcelona.

The duo’s lofty goals include dramatically increasing the distance drones can travel by using a national cellular network as opposed to the limiting short-range networks currently in use, according to AT&T internet-of-things senior vice president Chris Penrose.

“AT&T and Intel will be testing how the network can enable the most exciting business use cases. Our long-term evolution network is uniquely positioned to connect industries like delivery, agriculture, construction, and insurance.

“We’re using the network to transfer important information, images and video quickly and efficiently — far beyond the boundaries of short range connectivity,” Mr Penrose said.

Removing those boundaries could prove to be a major leap forward for the industry, effectively freeing drones to travel as far as their batteries would allow.

Given long-distance drone flights aren’t permitted in countries such as the US though, the authorities will first have to give the test-phase project their blessing before it can get off the ground properly.

AT&T also plans to analyse how drones work at higher altitudes by monitoring functions such as video streaming.

“Intel believes unmanned aerial vehicless have great potential, from inspections, precision agriculture to deliveries of consumer goods and providing emergency disaster relief,”

Intel new technology group vice president, Anil Nanduri said.

The growing interaction of drones and wearable technology was also on show at the mobile industry expo as Japanese electronics company Epson unveiled its latest Moverio smart glasses.

The Moverio BT-300 are almost 75% lighter and significantly smaller than the first generation of the product launched just five years ago and could help revolutionise drone flights.

Working with drone maker DJI, Epson claims its smart glasses will make flying drones safer and easier by giving the user a first-person view direct from the drone.

The glasses can also assist the visually impaired with their remaining sight, help with medical procedures and enhance experiences such as museum tours by providing additional information.


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