Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) and M1 Limited (M1) have conducted successful trials using M1’s 4.5G Heterogeneous Network (HetNet) to provide command, control and communication capabilities required for safe and efficient drone operations.
This milestone was achieved by flying a purpose-built drone, an Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) assembled by the Air Traffic Management Research Institute (ATMRI), a joint research centre by NTU Singapore and the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS). Using M1’s 4.5G HetNet, the drone was flown around M1’s premises at International Business Park, as well as two fields in Wan Shih Road and Old Holland Road.
Conventional drone operations use an unlicensed spectrum such as 2.4 GHz band to provide short range line-of-sight wireless connectivity but it is susceptible to radio signal interference. In contrast, a well-optimised 4.5G HetNet provides secured, low latency and high throughput mobile connectivity, enabling drones to fly beyond visual range in an urban environment.
In addition, drones could send real-time data and telemetry feeds during flight, with their precise aerial locations monitored over M1’s 4.5G HetNet. This paves the way for a dynamic and robust fleet traffic management solution required for the smart utilisation of Singapore’s urban airspace and its surrounding sea-to-shore coverage.
To further the collaboration, M1 and ATMRI signed a Memorandum of Understanding today, to research and develop M1’s 4.5G HetNet for the traffic management of UAS in Singapore’s urban environment. The findings from this research could provide valuable insight for unmanned operations using future 5G Ultra Reliable Low-Latency Communication (URLLC) network.
Mr Denis Seek, Chief Technical Officer of M1, said, “This collaboration is another innovation to accelerate Singapore’s transformation towards a Smart Nation. Interest in drones has already taken off beyond recreational and hobbyist groups, into serious commercial applications. Mobile technology has the potential to expand and extend the capabilities of drones to enable incredible new applications such as using drones to perform search & rescue operation at remote or inaccessible sites, aerial infrastructure surveillance, delivery of parcels quickly and efficiently, and even new entertainment channels such as first-person view drone race.”
NTU Singapore Professor Vu N. Duong, Director of the ATMRI, said command and control of UAS is a topic of critical importance especially when commercial usage of drones is taking off.
“NTU Singapore is at the forefront in both autonomous vehicles as well as air traffic management research. We are working now to establish an air traffic system which can effectively control and regulate UAS traffic in a congested airspace. By working with key industry partners like M1, we aim to translate our knowledge into practical applications beneficial to Singapore and other megacities,” Prof Duong said.
Leading this joint research project will be Professor Low Kin Huat, an expert in robotics and UAVs from NTU’s School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, and ATMRI senior research fellow Mohamed Faisal Bin Mohamed Salleh.
Together with engineers from M1, NTU researchers will map out the signal strengths and end-to-end latency of M1’s HetNet for Singapore’s entire urban airspace using drones, up to 130 metres (400ft), the height of a 36-storey building. This will help researchers to identify suitable airspace for reliable command and control of drones, including flights out of visual range.
One of the key enabling technologies required for such an air traffic management solution is a Command and Control (C2) Link for unmanned aircrafts, which is critical to ensure operational efficiency and safety of drones, especially in a dense urban environment like Singapore.
The joint project is expected to last three years, with M1 providing usage of their network and their engineering expertise, while NTU provides the expertise in traffic management of unmanned aircraft systems.