Tethered Drone Uses 5G to Provide Eye in the Sky


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A 5G-connected, tethered drone is giving first responders and rescuers the birds-eye view they need to gain instant situational awareness on the site of an emergency or a search and rescue mission.

Swiss drone company, Fotokite, partnered with Virgin Media O2 to test 5G-enabled, tethered drones recently in a simulated rescue mission at the Millbrook Proving Ground and a test facility in Leyland, United Kingdom, according to Virgin Media O2.

The interactive drone, which could be flown without a drone pilot’s license, used connectivity supplied by Virgin Media O2’s 5G network. A tethered drone is a quadcopter or other multi-rotor unmanned vehicle that uses a flexible wire or cable, which provides power and allows it to hover without requiring someone to be constantly flying it.  

In a matter of two minutes, first responders prepared the drone and then sent it up 148 feet in the air on a tether with a video camera onboard. Using images transmitted to a tablet, emergency on-site personnel – and teams based in other locations connected by a 5G network – were able to assess what was happening on the ground.

“The test helped develop a greater understanding of how 5G connectivity can be used to aid emergency services at trauma scenes and remote or difficult to reach locations,” Rob Searle, Head of 5G at Virgin Media O2. “The tethered Fotokite Sigma system was successfully tested to receive 5G network connectivity from its base station on the ground, to transfer real-time data to first responders at the location and local hospital teams via a smart tablet.”

The Fotokite drone has both thermal imaging and RGB video camera capabilities, as well as the ability to fly for extended times in all weather conditions. The device can stream live feeds via a 5G network from the operational “hot zone” of a major incident back to offsite strategic teams enabling instant feedback and decision-making that could save lives.

“This partnership with Fotokite could transform how emergency services operate and react to life-threatening situations,” Searle said.

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