The 5G Rural Integrated Testbed (5GRIT) is finally taking off with the launch of a test flight facility in Bedfordshire for 5G-enabled beyond visual line of site (BVLOS) flying for drones. Blue Bear, a UK managed service provider and systems integrator for unmanned systems, announced the official launch of the new test facility where its drone control system leverages 5G network technology.
5GRIT is one of the UK’s six government-funded 5G testbeds, with multiple projects within its ambit and has received a grant of £2.1 million to explore rural connectivity, smart farming and tourism use cases. The test bed spans six counties in northern England and southern Scotland and tests spectrum sharing using TV white space technology for delivering 5G to rural regions.
A consortium comprising Blue Bear, Cranfield University, Thales and Vodafone who enabled 5G drone testing along the 16-kilometre air corridor, the National BVLOS Experimental Centre (NBEC), was used where drones and manned aircraft can share the same airspace. It is UK’s first air corridor where drones are tracked and identified along the corridor using multiple elements of 5G technology to provide a Recognised Air Picture – that is, a list of all aircraft flying in a certain area. For example, Vodafone provides the 5G mobile solutions while Thales contributes its holographic radar technology.
Ian William-Wynn, managing director of Blue Bear said, “We first flew drones BVLOS in 2009. We opened the centre to allow other drone operators and equipment suppliers to fly and test their next generation technology in managed environments and scenarios representative of real operations. “This facility will accelerate the uptake of UK’s latent drone technology and infrastructure in global markets.”
Blue Bear is also contributing its BVLOS drone flying smarts to a precision-farming trial for gathering images of farmland and livestock, as well as trials that collect drone imagery of network infrastructure and tourist destinations, as part of the 5GRIT test bed.
Blue Bear performed the first BVLOS flights from the NBEC in December 2018 and will continue to instrument and achieve flight hours along the air corridor throughout 2019 with support from the NBEC consortia and the UK CAA.
David Walters, Blue Bear’s Operations Manager, said: “We are flying drones in agricultural regions of Cumbria to monitor the health of livestock and to survey crops and investigating how 5G can help transport large volumes of ‘Big Data’ to anywhere in the world. In the future farmers will be able to remotely task the drones to carry out routine tasks and analyse results from the breakfast table.”
In the tourism trial, for example, the project is developing a 5G augmented reality app, called ‘World Around Me’ to create new experiences and provide helpful information for visitors to the North Pennines region. For the rural broadband trial, consortium members are installing TV white space equipment in Loch Levin, Alston Moor and Bardney, with the aim of providing 30Mbps broadband to remote areas. UK has true GRIT after all!
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