An Apple patent for drone telecommunications technology was published last month. Despite the fact that our April Fool’s Day joke was on the top story list for several years, the Apple iDrone still doesn’t exist: Apple might be looking for a way to get into the drone industry, however.
By DRONELIFE Staff Writer Jim Magill
Tech giant Apple may want to dip its toes in the waters of the unmanned aerial systems business by offering advanced telecommunications systems for drones.
On the last day of 2020, the US Patent and Trademark Office published an Apple patent application entitled “UE Modem for Drones with Signal Quality Information for Flight Paths and 3D Wireless Environments”.
The application, which the company filed in June 2019, seeks to patent “a device of a drone, the device comprising: sensors arranged to determine a geographic location and an orientation of the drone; a plurality of antennas configured to form a beam through which the drone communicates data and control signals with a serving cell using a carrier frequency; an application processor; and a wireless modem arranged to communicate with the serving cell via the antenna and with the application processor. “
Although Apple has not yet commented, drone technology experts may suggest that Apple is developing drone telecommunications enhancement technologies to usher in a new era of drones equipped with Detect and Avoid (DAA) technology allowing drone operators to do so fly beyond line of sight (BVLOS).
“This system is about a lot more than just RID (Remote Identification),” said Dr. Terry Martin, Chief Technology Officer of the Australian Skyy Network. “It will improve the quality of the channel for the transmission of control, telemetry and user data.”
Martin said that in places where both 4G and 5G connectivity are available, the proposed Apple technology would “support BVLOS flight with improved security that the UAV can be both monitored and controlled as the quality the link to share this information is improved. “
He said this is in contrast to telecommunications using broadcast RID technology, which is limited to the range of WIFI or Bluetooth.
Kenji Sugahara, CEO and founder of Oregon-based UAS research and development company AriAscend, said the proposed Apple technology is a new way to optimize networks for drones in flight. Sugahara, who recently received a patent for remote identification of drones via broadcast and is an active member of ASTM, which works on international industry standards for remote ID, stated that the technology Apple wants to patent is the telecommunications capabilities of drones could improve far beyond the remote ID.
“It will help connect to a network for a variety of purposes including networked (vehicle-to-vehicle) communications, UAS monitoring from ground control, etc.,” he said.
“RID was never designed for DAA,” Sugahara said. “We were very clear about this in ASTM from the start. We specifically included a provision in the mandate saying that we would add elements that could be helpful to DAA if they did not cause problems with the rest of the standard. “
Dawn Zoldi, CEO and founder of P3 Tech Consulting, agreed that Apple may be trying to create the next generation of drone telecommunications technology.
“While the newly published final RID rule is a broadcast-only solution, the FAA left the door open for future network-based systems and RID USS-like networks (UAS service providers),” she said.
The Apple patent application could “represent a strong network solution that not only enables RID, but also BVLOS flight and UTM (unmanned traffic management)”. Said Zoldi.
“Apple may just have taken a big bite of the network’s commercial drone apple.”
However, Roger Fulghum, a Houston-based patent attorney with 26 years of experience, cautioned that Apple’s patent filing doesn’t necessarily mean the high-tech company is preparing to enter the drone telecommunications business.
“A company like Apple – and I don’t represent Apple – will file hundreds, if not thousands, of patent applications each year. These will not only cover products under development, but also blue sky ideas where people think about new technologies that weren’t developed, ”he said.
“Not every patent idea will lead to a commercial product,” he said.
Miriam McNabb is editor-in-chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a marketplace for professional drone services, and a fascinating observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has written over 3,000 articles focusing on the commercial drone space and is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry. Miriam graduated from the University of Chicago and has over 20 years experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
For advice or writing on the drone industry, email Miriam.
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