Vodafone UK has become the first communications provider to join a consortium for drone testing.
The National Beyond Visual Line of Sight Experimentation Corridor (NBEC) consortium is carrying out testing to enable drones and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to fly safely in the same airspace as manned aircraft.
Vodafone will provide 4G and 5G connectivity to the consortium, which includes Cranfield University, Blue Bear Research and Thales.
The latest announcement progresses Vodafone’s ongoing work in the field of drones. Vodafone completed the first UK drone delivery over a 4G network in December 2018. It has previously trialled mobile connected drone technology as part of the European Aviation Safety Agency’s U-Space programme in Aldenhoven, Germany and Sevilla, Spain.
Beyond the line of sight
The consortium aims to create an ‘experimentation corridor’ – a controlled strip of airspace between Blue Bear’s facility in Oakley, Bedford and Cranfield University. The first test flights took place at Cranfield Airport in February 2019.
The NBEC flight corridor will be used to demonstrate how 4G and 5G mobile technology can be used to identify and track the location of a drone in real time. This is vital to ensure that autonomous ‘beyond visual line of sight’ flights are safe. It will complement existing satellite-based GPS location systems, which provide accurate location estimates but can be open to jamming and compromise.
Mobile connectivity on a drone would provide a secondary feed of location-based information, enabling a more robust and trusted picture of the drone’s location. Such capabilities will be key to the air traffic management systems required to allow the routine and safe flying of commercial drones in the future.
By 2030, drones could contribute £42 billion to the UK's GDP, deliver £16 billion in annual cost savings and create more than 600,000 jobs, according to PwC.
Anne Sheehan, Director, Vodafone Business UK, said, “Drones offer exciting opportunities for the future that will benefit society and the economy. However, we need to make sure they are used safely and responsibly. We are delighted to bring our mobile connectivity expertise to the NBEC consortium so that drone technology can be further tested and developed.”