Valmont Industries and T-Mobile have successfully completed a 77-mile, 3-hour drone flight over rural Texas using 5G technology. The long-distance beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) inspection flight is a significant milestone, showcasing the potential of drones and 5G connectivity for infrastructure monitoring and inspections.
Traditional methods of infrastructure monitoring often require extensive manpower, manned aircraft operations, or ground-based inspections, which can be time-consuming, costly, and pose safety risks. However, with the recent increase in waivers for BVLOS drone operations by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), companies like Valmont are leveraging these advancements.
Valmont, one of the first companies in the U.S. to receive a BVLOS waiver, completed the inspection mission using a Harris Aerial H6E drone equipped with a T-Mobile 5G connected Sony A7RM5 camera. The drone inspected vital infrastructure such as power lines, railroads, and bridges along the 77-mile route from Childress to Aspermont, Texas.
This efficient and cost-effective method reduced inspection time to just three hours, which is three times faster than conventional methods and used less than two gallons of fuel.
Key highlights of the mission include Valmont's drone inspection teams using less than one-fourth gallon of fuel per hour, significantly pushing the average distance of unmanned aircraft system (UAS) inspections from less than 20 miles per day to over 60 miles. Despite the rural location, T-Mobile's 5G network provided live data transfer throughout the entire flight, enabling real-time monitoring and analysis. The high-resolution capabilities of the Sony A7RM5 camera, combined with the drone's close proximity to utility lines, delivered detailed imagery for critical infrastructure inspections.
Jake Lahmann, UAS Manager at Valmont Industries Inc., emphasized the significance of the flight, stating,
"Range has been a hurdle in the drone inspection space, until now. To be able to get this kind of range in a single drone flight is really going to revolutionize the way the industry approaches infrastructure inspections."
Ulf Ewaldsson, President of Technology at T-Mobile, highlighted the role of 5G in enabling such advancements, stating, "5G was built to make life easier... the reach and speed of T-Mobile 5G is making it possible for entire industries to revolutionize the way they work."
By utilizing 5G connectivity, Valmont's drone inspection services demonstrate the potential of 5G-enabled technologies in responding to emergencies and preventing critical infrastructure malfunctions. With more accurate and preemptive monitoring capabilities, Valmont can help identify and address issues before they escalate and impact a wider area.
Valmont is actively collaborating with the FAA to establish BVLOS drone operation policies and plans to offer nationwide drone-in-a-box (DiaB) services by 2024. This service will enable customers to order a drone, unbox it, and initiate inspections remotely, with Valmont pilots operating the drones from virtually anywhere in the U.S. This streamlined approach will further enhance the efficiency and accessibility of aerial inspection services across various industries.