5G-enabled drones usher in era of smart possibilities


By Oh Wei Ling, General Manager, Regional Market Development, Partnerships & 5G Services, StarHub

A dragon formed by 1,500 drones lit up the Marina Bay skyline to put up a mesmerising night show. Thousands had gathered to watch the "The Legend of the Dragon Gate" drone show that marked the start of the Year of the Dragon in February. 

These drones are part of what is called "drone light shows", which are orchestrated by technology and creativity. 

A robust communication network is vital for the seamless choreography of the drones. Each drone communicates with a central control system, receiving real-time instructions on its position, movement, and the color and intensity of its lights. Drones commonly communicate using unlicensed radio frequency (RF) communication.

Heralding a new era for drone technology, the 5G network is up to 100x faster than 4G. Coupled with low latency, it enables drones to respond to commands almost instantaneously. This enhanced speed opens a window of possibilities for drone applications, making them more versatile and capable than ever before.

More than just light shows

While drone light shows continue to capture the public's imagination, possible applications of drones on 5G extend far beyond entertainment. Industries such as logistics, agriculture and emergency services are already exploring the benefits of using drones equipped with 5G connectivity. These benefits include improved efficiency, streamlined operations, reduced costs, and new revenue streams. 

In Singapore, the Singapore Civil Defence Force has deployed drones to help deal with significant incidents, such as fires. Real-time aerial video transmission of the affected area provides its officers with better situational awareness, enabling more informed decision-making and more effective resource allocation.

Another example is in the logistics industry, where drones have been trialled to deliver parcels and medical supplies. This improves speed of delivery and enhances operational efficiency.

Drones equipped with advanced sensors can monitor crop health, irrigation and pest control, enabling precision farming practices that increase yield and reduce resource use.

5G-enabled drones can transfer massive files quickly, which are particularly useful for applications such as mapping and live video streaming. They can also provide real-time data collection, transmission and analysis. Images, scans and videos are sent directly to decision-makers to analyse and take prompt actions.

Massive potential

StarHub has been actively exploring and implementing various drone applications on its 5G network. From building inspection to providing real-time surveillance for security, StarHub's initiatives showcase the diverse and transformative capabilities of drones on 5G.

There are immense opportunities for drone technology in Singapore and the region. The continued evolution of drone technology, coupled with advancements in AI, IoT and data analytics, will unlock even more applications and use cases in the days ahead. 

For instance, the integration of drones with AI for autonomous operations could transform industries by enabling round-the-clock operations without human intervention. This would be a massive help for organisations faced with a manpower crunch.

Pivotal role in Smart Nation building

As Singapore aims to become a Smart Nation, leveraging technology to enhance the quality of life for its citizens, drones on 5G can play a pivotal role.

The construction sector can use 5G-enabled drones to provide precise mapping, easy monitoring of project development, and improved accountability for site activities when building new towns. 

In the oil and gas industry, where Singapore is among the top global oil trading and refining hubs, drones can be deployed for infrastructure inspections and maintenance, particularly in areas that are difficult to reach, such as remote regions, offshore platforms, high-voltage lines, and inside oil tanks. Having drones tackle such tasks reduces downtime and maintenance costs, enhances efficiency and reliability of energy services, and increases safety of maintenance staff.

Drones can enhance security and safety by monitoring crowded areas during mega events, such as the Taylor Swift concert and the National Day Parade.

Building on its experience in drone technology, Singapore can then export its expertise, technologies and services to the region and globally, further enhancing its position as a technology leader.

The combination of drone technology and 5G networks is much more than just about creating captivating light shows. It's about ushering in a new era of possibilities and applications that have the potential to transform the way we live, play and work in Singapore.

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