The first drone flight controlled via a dedicated ‘network slice’ on a pre-5G mobile network has been demonstrated by UK company uVue. The drone was operated over BT’s pre-5G network slicing testbed, using LTE radio access during the company’s biennial Innovation Week at the BT Labs, Martlesham, near Ipswich, UK.
uVue and BT executed well over 100 flights, demonstrating the technology to more than 3,000 attendees, including BT’s VIPs, key partners, internal staff and members of the public between Monday 12th to Friday 16th June.
Paul Bramall, uVue’s Director of Engineering, commented, “Uniquely, the drone was controlled manually over LTE radio access and a dedicated pre-5G network slice with low latency from stick to propeller. Additionally, high definition video footage was streamed from the drone across the network at low latency for display to the audience. Although conventional 2.4GHz/5GHz RF remote control (RC) hardware was fitted to provide a seamless back-up control channel, the cellular network was so reliable that it was never required.”
Maria Cuevas, BT’s Head of Converged Core Network and Services Research added, “In collaboration with uVue, BT was able to demonstrate the concept of network slicing in a pre-5G deployment, which allows service providers to dynamically allocate and reserve resources to particular services over cellular networks. The demonstration was most effective in showing that we are able to protect a private ‘slice’ of the network for uVue’s drone as the rest of the network was deliberately overloaded. The slice allocated to drone control remained perfectly functional and stable, enabling the drone to remain responsive to the pilot’s control at all times.”
Russ Delaney, Director of Tech Ops at uVue, an ex-British Army helicopter instructor and drone pilot with 20+ years’ experience of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) commented, “I was delighted at how responsive the drone control was over the mobile network and at how reliable the private slice was. Delivery of real-time low latency HD video footage back over the network provided a completely new standard for ‘eye in the sky’. This is a key milestone in UAV development, showing that cellular networks have immense potential to provide uncompromised drone control and hence air safety.”