Verizon will bring 5G Ultra Wideband and mobile edge computing to the Caltech Center for Autonomous Systems and Technologies (CAST), aiming to research how 5G, AI, and edge computing can help drones handle difficult weather conditions

This week, Verizon has announced 5G Ultra Wideband partnerships with a pair of US universities, aiming to use the network to help explore drone flight alongside the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and Industry 4.0 advancements with Pennsylvania State University.

At CAST, the operator said it would use the 5G deployment to explore how the low latency, high speeds, and massive capacity of 5G can be used to help reduce drones’ need for in-built heavy computing hardware. Making use of edge computing, the AI systems the drone makes use of can function more efficiently, allowing for better real-time interpretation of data and near instantaneous in-flight adjustments. 

More specifically, the technology will be explored in the context of difficult weather conditions, with researchers hoping the new capabilities will allow drones to detect, interpret, and adjust to weather conditions in real-time. 

The CAST lab includes a three-story-tall aerodrome filled with adjustable fans, allowing the researchers to mimic weather conditions from a gentle breeze to gale-force winds; it can even be tilted 90 degrees to simulate vertical take-off under challenging conditions. 

Interestingly, the custom fan wall used in the facility was reportedly the blueprint used to design a similar facility for the Mars Ingenuity helicopter, a project that introduced a whole different array of challenges when it came to communications technology.

“By collaborating with CAST researchers, we hope to accelerate the innovation process and development of unmanned aerial vehicles that can autonomously navigate using 5G, edge compute and AI,” said Nicki Palmer, Chief Product Development Officer at Verizon. “This research project is just the tip of the iceberg of what we hope to see tested. The facility and areas of exploration that CAST is working on represent the types of use cases that 5G can really take to the next level.”

Meanwhile, at Pennsylvania State University’s Innovation Park, Verizon’s 5G network deployment will provide a proving ground for various new technologies, allowing students, faculty, start-ups, and established companies to combine their expertise and test solutions. 

The facilities will primarily focus on the ways in which 5G connectivity can help to improve processes and automation in manufacturing.

“We are excited to partner with Verizon to bring advanced digital connectivity to Penn State and enable new innovations in digital connectivity,” said Tim Simpson, the Paul Morrow Professor of Engineering Design and Manufacturing and co-director for the Center for Innovation Materials Processing through Direct Digital Deposition (CIMP-3D). “Having 5G capabilities in CIMP-3D creates unique opportunities to drive the use and adoption of additive manufacturing as we embark on the fourth industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0.”


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