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Qualcomm launches drone 5G platform, reference design

Qualcomm's Flight RB5 5G Platform aims to accelerate development for commercial, enterprise and industrial drones as well as edge computing.
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Written by Larry Dignan on

Qualcomm launched a drone platform that aims to replicate the success of the Ingenuity Helicopter on Mars on Earth.

The company's technology and its Qualcomm Flight Platform was used for the unmanned flight of the Ingenuity Helicopter. That effort turned out to be a test for the Qualcomm Flight RB5 5G Platform, which is a reference design for drones that integrates 5G and AI.

Qualcomm's Flight RB5 5G Platform aims to accelerate development for commercial, enterprise and industrial drones as well as edge computing. Target use cases include entertainment, security, delivery, defense, inspection and mapping. Dev Singh, general manager of Qualcomm's robotics, drones and intelligence machines unit, said the Qualcomm RB5 5G Platform is the first focused on drones. The RB5 platform was specific to robotics.

In 2015, Qualcomm launched Qualcomm Flight and followed up with Qualcomm Flight Pro in 2018. NASA used off-the-shelf Qualcomm technology for the Ingenuity Helicopter flight on Mars. Qualcomm Flight was also used on the Perseverance Rover to manage and process images.

Singh said the feedback from the NASA JPL project has been two-way and almost real time. "The feedback we received from Mars also applies to enterprise use cases too. It's an ongoing process with engagement," said Singh. 

According to Qualcomm, the Qualcomm Flight RB5 5G Platform includes its QRB5165 processor, IoT tools and low power consumption. For connectivity, the platform leverages 5G and Wi-Fi 6. Singh added that Qualcomm has tweaked the Wi-Fi 6 technology to go from 6km line of sight flights to 8km. 

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In the long run, Qualcomm expects drones to be a key piece of the Internet of things and edge computing data flow. "Drones will be out there doing multiple things and surveillance, vision and GPS and the aggregation of data will be a critical part of data flows," said Singh. The potential of drones in the mix is becoming apparent in pilots for everything from inspections of wind farms and power lines as well as deliveries, film and entertainment. 

The drone reference design is available through ModalAI and the Qualcomm Flight RB5 5G development kit is expected to be available in the fourth quarter.

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