Drone connectivity explained: Communication methods for unmanned platforms

Drones are infiltrating all aspects of modern life. There is a great opportunity for drone companies to capitalize on the surge in unmanned autonomous or semi-autonomous vehicle use as soon as they can clear all the regulatory hurdles.

Anyone using BVLOS (Beyond Visual Line of Sight) operations today will know that its great potential is tempered by the shortfalls in the technology required to make it completely safe to operate.

Finding the correct high uptime solution is the challenge. This is because using a single type of communication method is insufficient and irresponsible.

The companies that achieve a modular, flexible, and adjustable communication pipeline will get regulatory clearance and will be able to tap into vast commercial markets.

 

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Challenges

When regulators like the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) decide on the rules for Unmanned Aircraft System Traffic Management (UTM) systems, they are looking to solve a few challenges.

They are worried about matters like aircraft visibility and drone unit identification. But chiefly they are worried about safe, robust communication links for BVLOS operations.

This is why the market is still maturing. The first movers in the area of unmanned autonomous or semi-autonomous vehicle communication will profit the most.

unmanned autonomous vehicle

A view of unmanned autonomous vehicle communication methods 

Radio Frequency

Billions of devices around the world communicate via wireless radio frequency waves. Device transmitters and receivers communicate along with a distinct frequency. Many drones use this unlicensed method of communication.

Pros

  • Specific RF signatures mean that even in a busy city environment, drone communication peaks are distinct enough to be a reliable technology.
  • The technology is tried and tested and highly scalable and largely safe.

Cons

  • The technology is fragile in that signals can be intentionally or unintentionally hijacked through signal jammers.
  • The signal has a limited range and must be operated within the line of sight.

Single or multi sim LTE / 4G

Licensed and regulated cellular networks offer LTE and 4G network services. They provide wide coverage and uniform quality.

Pros

  • LTE / 4G connections allow faster and higher volume data transfers than previous generations of network services.
  • These services offer a good range over large distances, provided the area is covered by enough cell towers. This means that remote territories are under-serviced.

Cons

  • Long-range flight options are limited due to typical wireless connectivity being insufficient.
  • LTE/4G offers failover mechanisms in the form of backup connections, but the failover is not bonding.

Satellite

Pros

  • Satellite technology offers global always-on communication and control. Coverage is very wide, and uptime is consistently high.

Cons

  • This technology is currently mainly used in large military-style UAVs that fly over large distances and heights. Commercial drones don’t have a viable solution yet that incorporates satellite communications.

5G

It is the technology of the future, as it offers data speeds that are hundreds of times faster than its predecessor 4G.

Pros

  • It is perfectly suited for high-resource tasks like transmitting real-time high definition footage during unmanned autonomous or semi-autonomous vehicle use. It has improved latency and data speeds than previous generations.

Cons

  • Any reliance on a single 5G communication link is dangerous, especially with low coverage. This means that operation in rural terrain will be affected.
  • For drones to make effective use of a 5G network, the coverage must be comprehensive. Antennas are needed everywhere for it to operate smoothly.

The Solution: Halo connectivity platform by Elsight

Elsight’s industry-leading Halo Technology offers a solution to the problems posed by BVLOS operation using several different technologies.

Halo technology aggregates different technologies into one communication pipeline. The advantages of using all the existing technologies in a hybrid and modular fashion are clear.

Satellite and 5G are still emerging technologies, but Elsight is agile enough to deploy them as soon as possible.

Conclusion

Faced with massive future growth, juggling multiple technologies is not the best option, but it is where the industry finds itself.

The most innovative players must craft a mature product that can be sold at scale. Elsight is flexible enough to create the right modularity using a number of existing technologies.

Halo Technology has been tested over 2000 hours of operations. To date, 15 company integrations on over 50 platforms have been completed with Halo.

 


Written by Ronny Vatelmacher
Director of Product Management, Elsight

 

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