Qualcomm claims new era with 5G, AI-enabled autonomous drones

Global mobile chip leader says platform will accelerate and scale development for manufacturers to deliver ‘powerful’ purpose-built craft that will see use cases in enterprise and industrial 5G

At the beginning of the year, Qualcomm said it would be looking to raise the potential of 5G opportunities and now it claims to have continued its leadership in drone technology with the world’s first drone platform and reference design to offer both 5G and artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities.

The launch of the Qualcomm Flight RB5 5G platform follows the success of the Ingenuity Helicopter on Mars which Qualcomm believes was a key breakthrough for unmanned flight powered by its flight platform. The new platform is designed to help accelerate development for commercial, enterprise and industrial drones, and open up innovative possibilities for industries looking to adopt drone technology and realise the benefits of the intelligent edge.

Describing itself as a primary driver of global 5G proliferation and a “catalyst and visionary” in enabling 5G to scale and revolutionise the robotics and drone industry, Qualcomm says the Flight RB5 5G platform, powered by the RB5165 processor, builds on its latest internet of things (IoT) offerings, delivering a solution that will drive the next generation of high-performance, low-power 5G drones.

The Flight RB5 5G platform is said to condense multiple complex technologies into one integrated drone system to support evolving applications and new use cases in sectors including film and entertainment, security and emergency response, delivery, defence, inspection and mapping.

The Flight RB5 platform’s power consumption is said to provide power-efficient inferencing at the edge for AI and machine learning, enabling fully autonomous drones. Camera capabilities deliver premium image capabilities and performance and with 5G and Wi-Fi 6 connectivity, the platform is said to enhance critical flying abilities beyond visual line-of-sight to support safer, more reliable flight.

Qualcomm said safety controls alone can no longer assure industrial and commercial drone safety, especially when scaling to beyond visual line-of-sight operations. The platform is also equipped with a Qualcomm secure processing unit to support modern drone demands for cyber security protections as a key enabler of data protection and safety requirements.

“We have continued to engage many leading drone companies, enabling 200-plus global robotics and drone ecosystem members in addition to consistently driving and promoting worldwide drone standardisation and transformative 5G capabilities in organisations such as 3GPP, GSMA, the Global UTM Alliance, the Aerial Connectivity Joint Initiative and ASTM,” said Dev Singh, senior director, business development and general manager of autonomous robotics, drones and intelligent machines at Qualcomm Technologies.

“We are proud to continue our momentum of enabling the digital transformation of global industries by unveiling the Qualcomm Flight RB5 5G platform, a solution that is purpose-built for drone development with enhanced autonomy and intelligence features, bringing premium connected flight capabilities to industrial, enterprise and commercial segments.”

The Qualcomm Flight RB5 5G development kit is expected to be available in this year’s fourth quarter. Qualcomm is already working with US operator Verizon to complete network testing of the Flight RB5 platform for its 5G network, and expects the platform, which is 5G mmWave capable, to be offered via the Verizon Thingspace Marketplace.

Other operators and technology firms that have indicated validation and support for the latest drone system also include AT&T, Asia Pacific Telecom, China Unicom, Everguard.ai, Juganu, Korea Telecom, LGU+, ModalAI, MITRE, Taiwan Mobile, TDK and Zyter.

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