Qualcomm Tests Night Drone Capability

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qualcomm-droneWhile the Federal Aviation Administration allows drones, they must be in the line of sight during daytime hours. However, Qualcomm Inc. is looking to change the rules via possible cell networks.

Malay Mail Online reported that Qualcomm is looking into “tapping into the networks of towers that connect phones to each other and to the internet.” The company hopes that this technology will enable drone operators to work with drones even in low visibility or nighttime occurrences. Tom Morrod, senior director for consumer electronics at IHS Markit, said  “the industry is desperate for a workaround to the FAA rules, which are hindering the widespread adoption of the devices.”

Qualcomm runs its drone research from the helipad of its San Diego headquarters, whose airspace is controlled by the Miramar Marine Corps. Therefore, drone testing can be done, according to Malay Mail Online, in a safely restricted airspace. Testing drones, which have done more than 550 test flights, are being dubbed “Qualcomm 1” and must check in with the control tower before flying.

“With autonomy plus connectivity you have multiple mechanisms that ensure safety,” Qualcomm’s Paul Guckian, head of research and development, said. “When you consider the safety of people on the ground and the safety of aircraft in the national airspace it’s all about fail-safe mechanism redundancy.”

Test drones currently work by pressing an icon on a tablet or smartphone before take-off. Items “in the way” can include birds, low batteries and cell connection. So far, Qualcomm is working on diverting around birds, and a backup connection in the form of existing networks that allow drones to be tracked in not only dark environments, but “densely populated areas where they have the potential to cause the most mischief and also be the most use,” Malay Mail Online reported.

Current solutions being researched by Qualcomm include no-fly zones for drones with software “that could detect when the drone connected to cell towers near that airspace, and then either not allow the device to take off in the first place or force it to land immediately.”

Market researcher Gartner Inc. estimates there were 2.2 million drones sold for personal use last year, up from 242,000 in 2013, according to Malay Mail Online, which in comparison to smartphone sales could mean a huge gain in the market.

December 6, 2016

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