5G and AI for Advanced Drone Development

Dec 17, 2021
4 min read

Drones, one of the most fascinating and useful devices that technology could provide us. In technical terms, drones are known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and have experienced a lot of growth since their first emergence in 2007. Drones primarily gained popularity amongst photographers as they could take photos and videos from the sky and enabled people to get aerial views while standing on the ground. Soon they were used for collecting data for understanding weather patterns or crime scenes.

As artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities and availability of low drones grow, it is more critical than ever to ensure continual communication and efficiency. The capacity of a drone to fly beyond the pilot's visual range and travel longer distances without human interference is also important. Although all these conditions were being fulfilled, a significant breakthrough that has been overlooked is the integration of this rapidly evolving drone technology with AI and autonomous developments, as well as 5G and long-range Wi-Fi connection.  Qualcomm has come up with the world’s first 5G and AI-enabled drone platform named ‘Qualcomm Flight RB5 5G Platform’. If you are new to the concept of 5G and Artificial Intelligence, let us learn more about them.

5G in Drone Development

According to a blog post on the website of Modal AI, which collaborated with Qualcomm on the Flight RB5 5G platform,

“5G is a game-changer for autonomous drones.”

Networks like 4G LTE and 5G allow safe, dependable autonomous drone operation outside the visual line of sight, thanks to wide-area, high-speed, secure wireless network coverage from major wireless service providers available virtually wherever a drone may travel. 5G is not just the present and future of connectivity; it also allows for large-scale drone deployment for mission-critical drone use cases such as search and rescue operations, air traffic control, and 360-degree virtual reality film capture. Drones with artificial intelligence (AI) have enhanced perceptual skills and can provide data in real-time, which is critical when seconds count. The capacity to know what's going on and when, whether a drone is dropping medical supplies or delivering food or gifts, may be lifesaving. 5G-enabled drones are now used for COVID tests to limit the amount of human contact.

Major corporations are increasing their investments in 5G and autonomous drones. Uber Eats, Amazon, and UPS have all invested in autonomous drone fleets. Uber Eats have successfully used AI-powered drones for food delivery in 2019 in a highly urban setup with tall buildings creating challenges. Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile are all marketing their own private 5G networks, which are being tested for drone compatibility. Drones driven by artificial intelligence and equipped with cellular connectivity are also used by the US military. The Defense Innovation Unit of the Department of Defense (DoD) is successfully executing U.S. Army operations that will save lives utilizing AI-enabled drones with 4G LTE technology.

Applications of AI-enabled Drones

A 5G AI-enabled drone can perform the following tasks:

Perform security surveillance in a smart city.
Area mapping for urban planning.
Acting fast as an emergency response.
In farming and agriculture, crop monitoring and soil evaluation are essential.
Scanning of the terrain and placement of construction equipment
Inspection of the structure and the subterranean environment
Face recognition and human tracking
Detecting danger and keeping an eye on security in dangerous situations
Warehouse inventory management
Food and supplies are delivered.
Military and defense personnel are responsible for border patrol, security surveillance, storm tracking, food supply, and safety inspection.

As seen, drones have many applications. Drones are wonderful in disaster management and ensuring public safety as well. Deep learning algorithms combined with LIDAR/FLIR cameras provide accurate heat intensity, wind speed, and susceptible regions analytics. Surveillance footage may also be transmitted immediately to the firemen and management authorities for real-time monitoring and short reaction times, thanks to fast, dependable 5G connectivity.

Building A 5G Drone

One might want to build a drone for any project. For that, one must have the following things:

For flying outside visual line of sight, 4G LTE and/or 5G cellular technologies are required.
For security and multi-device networking, a virtual private network (VPN) is needed.
A.I. for movement and vision capabilities, such as Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM) to orient the drone to its ever-changing environment, and deep learning object identification and integrated depth sensing to design mission routes and ease obstacle avoidance.
For estimating device location, use visual-inertial odometry (VIO).
For simpler development, flexible software architecture is used.
Multiple image sensors are supported for 4K video capture, streaming, and computer vision processing all at the same time.
A lightweight, cost-effective, plug-and-play system with a large computational capacity on a single printed circuit board (PCB).

To comply with the National Defense Authorization Act of 2020, military drone makers must employ components produced outside of China, preferably in the United States. According to the Act, the Department of Defense cannot use or renew a contract for a foreign-made UAS that was manufactured in, uses equipment such as cameras or flight controllers developed in, or uses a ground control system developed in, or uses a network or data storage administered by China or an entity domiciled in China. This regulation provides dependable benefits such as quality control, safety, documentation, faster development timeframes, state-of-the-art innovation, and trustworthy support, in addition to promoting American-made technology.


Artificial Intelligence is a very important tool in the field of technology. When combined with a 5G network, it acts as a boon for drone development. Engineers who are looking ahead rely on these developments to enhance drone capabilities and expand use cases on a daily basis, making them smarter, safer, and more capable. Many companies like Qualcomm and Modal AI are continuously working in designing and manufacturing AI-powered modules that communicate with other devices with the help of 5G cellular networks.