Drones or Flying C.O.Ws
Drones, also known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, are becoming ubiquitous at great pace. Drones that started with specialized applications in surveillance, are today being used in transportation of products and even as virtual photographers for capturing selfies from unimaginable angles. This shows the maturity that Drone-related technologies (Navigation, Object avoidance etc.) have achieved. High-grade sensors with low-cost at scales have made them a consumer product. A key component that lets them achieve the heights (literally) is communication chips within them. Drones can also benefit from the high-bandwidth LTE networks worldwide for streaming the videos directly to cloud and maintain low-latency communication with the control stations. Although 4G networks were not planned for in-air terminals and hence majority of them have antennas inclined towards the ground, 5G is considering 3D MIMO to serve these emerging use cases where a base station beams can be controlled in both horizontal and vertical direction simultaneously.
However, drones are not going to be just a beneficiary of advances in cellular technology but are also going to contribute symbiotically towards enhancement of cellular coverage (coverage holes) and support ad-hoc use cases like natural disasters or concerts/stadiums. They can carry small base stations to sufficient heights and can support these advanced use cases. Many companies and researchers have visualized a herd of Drones coordinating with each other under guidance of central station or autonomously to provide even larger coverage and seamless services. Broadband access to remote and rural places could be possible using drone base stations.
In 2017, AT&T demonstrated a drone base station. They called it “flying COWs.” COW here stands for “cell on wings”. According to AT&T, a single one of the flying cell towers can provide coverage for 40 square miles, and since it’s tethered to a vehicle-based ground station it is continuously powered and never needs to land to be recharged. We investigated AT&T’s patents to correlate their experiments with their inventions. AT&T patent US9918234B2, published in March, 2018, teaches a very similar method of supplementing network coverage with one or more fleets of autonomous drones.
Another interesting company that emerged from our analysis is Ubiqomm, it has around 31 US patent applications in the field of Drones providing broadband access to ground users or other drones. All Ubiqomm patents, post March 2018, are reassigned to Bridgewest Finance LLC. Dr. Massih Tayebi, Chairman & CEO of BridgeWest LLC, has history of monetizing startups by selling them. His company, RapidBridge a semiconductor IP and ASIC design company, was acquired by Qualcomm in 2012. Ubiquomm will likely pursue monetization efforts as broadband by drone becomes more attractive.
Drones related technology segment is very intriguing. It is a perfect implementation of a variety of technologies like Autonomous Vehicles, Video streaming, Communication with possibility of incorporation of wireless charging, deep learning, artificial intelligence and other emerging areas. We analyzed the cellular communication related dimension of drones in this blog and will continue to publish more articles related to Drone technology. Till then, look at the skies, who knows, you might encounter some flying C.O.W.s.