Will you one day receive an SMS text from your Amazon delivery drone, notifying you it’s about descend on your backyard? AT&T and Qualcomm will soon test that scenario.
While federal regulations prevent companies from using drones to do anything that requires them to break line-of-sight with their pilots — which has effectively shut down previous plans for drone deliveries, those laws can change. And the two telecommunications giants have partnered to test how drones will use cell networks — 4G LTE, but one day, 5G — to communicate with operators on the ground.
The companies seem to anticipate a day when the government’s rules won’t be so restrictive and flying delivery drones will be commonplace.
“Everything from the inspection of cell towers to search and rescue operations and deliveries are the end-goals of what we’re doing together,” Greg Bealus, AT&T’s business development lead for drones, tells Inverse. He adds that “regulations will take a little longer to catch up with operations,” and that “we want to be prepared.”
In an announcement Tuesday, the companies laid out how they will collectively study how wireless networks, including future 5G networks, can aid in drone operations. This research will be conducted at Qualcomm’s government-sanctioned test facilities in San Diego.
“The ability to fly beyond an operator’s visual range could enable successful delivery, remote inspection and exploration,” declares a press release. “Wireless technology can bring many advantages to drones such as ubiquitous coverage, high-speed mobile support, robust security, high reliability and quality of service,” they continue.
They aren’t the only companies waiting for regulators to catch up with drone technology. Amazon, for example, started testing its delivery drones in the UK when the Federal Aviation Administration released new rules that won’t allow companies to operate fleets of delivery drones in the United States.
Then, in July, the White House stepped in to allow Google to test its Project Wing delivery service in the United States. While there’s still little hope of delivery drones becoming a reality in the near term, the White House’s decision at least offers a glimmer of hope to companies anxiously waiting to fill the skies with drones and consumers who want to activate a drone via an Amazon Dash button or every time they order from Domino’s Pizza.
Many people think drone deliveries are the future. AT&T and Qualcomm are merely preparing themselves for that future by trying to make sure AT&T’s wireless network and Qualcomm’s chipsets are prepared to help pilots control their drones without maintaining line-of-sight.