AT&T and Uber Explore Advanced Communications with Drones
Interview with AT&T’s Matt Walsh, AVP of IoT Solutions Group
With the announcement that AT&T and Uber will explore how LTE and 5G connectivity can enhance next-generation electric vertical take-off and landing vehicles (eVTOLs) and cargo drones, what are the initial subjects that will be explored in the first stage and goals of the program?
The first stage of program will initially focus on LTE connectivity and expand to 5G over time. AT&T and Uber will utilize existing network data that has been collected already by both companies individually to help inform the direction of the trial.
What type of vehicles and communications systems will be used for the testing and how will measurements of effectiveness be made (please include a picture of the vehicle(s), if possible)?
Helicopters will use current cellular communication solutions. We’ll measure effectiveness by the increased reliability and security of the vehicle’s connection as it goes through the flight process of takeoff travel to its destination and landing.
What are the biggest challenges to overcome with connectivity for these types of vehicles?
The biggest challenge will be the way devices perform at different altitudes. Meaning, how devices connect to the cellular network above a certain height is different than how things connect on the ground.
In future stages you will be exploring network slicing and edge computing, what do you see as the main applications for these technologies in the project?
With network slicing, we’ll be able to provide dedicated slices of spectrum that improve access and reliability of the network, while also prioritizing certain mission critical applications. For edge computing, 5G capabilities will eventually allow for compute resources for applications at the edge – where the optimized latency is vital.
What types of connectivity do you see being tested for autonomous operation (such as collision avoidance, obstacle detection, 3D imaging, etc.)?
The goal is to provide customers like Uber with necessary network access to collect the data when it comes to air space communications, such as a Temporary Flight Restriction or Identification. This will help inform their services and allow them to manage their own operations and resources.
How will wireless security and reliability be implemented and evaluated to address any safety concerns of this service?
It is important to note that companies seeking to enable airborne based connectivity, are also building platforms that can operate safely without connectivity. AT&T brings specific security capabilities that can be applied industry wide and we see security and reliability as key benefits of using standards-based licensed spectrum.
How does AT&T see incorporating lessons learned from this project into their 5G rollout?
We expect key learnings to help us understand where 5G can improve upon and expand the capabilities that exist today.