The GSMA Foundry and 5G Autonomous Drones: efficient inventory management and surveillance inspections

The GSMA Foundry is an exciting new forum for pioneers, thought leaders and problem solvers in the mobile industry – using the GSMA’s global reach and convening power to unify the ecosystem and shape the future of connectivity, through the sharing of expertise and the setting of common goals. GSMA members and industry players collaborate to nurture new ideas through commercial trials then scale success stories at regional and global levels.

The connected drones space has seen particular benefit from the GSMA Foundry’s activities in recent months, with the 5G Autonomous Drones project drawing on the work of the GSMA’s Advanced Air Mobility and the Telco Edge Cloud (TEC) Forum.  Advanced Air Mobility is a multi-stakeholder community, focused on commercial applications of autonomous, beyond-visual-line-of-sight drone operations enabled by mobile networks. The community is organised around knowledge-sharing, identifying the needs of the aviation industry, working closely with relevant standards bodies, and providing guidelines for MNOs and the wider drones ecosystem. The TEC Forum is a global initiative made up of 23 operators and platform providers, aimed at helping the mobile ecosystem recognise the value of edge computing, and making the most of what it has to offer: primarily by demonstrating the success of operator-specific features that enhance cloud-native runtime environments with smart edge application instantiation, smart edge discovery, mobility management, aggregation and federation, and support for roaming users in multi-operator environments.

Operator-led advances in edge computing and the performances of 5G are enabling the new generation of high-throughput drone applications which don’t rely on heavy computing power in the device itself– the outcome of which is sophisticated uses of uncrewed aviation which can benefit from 5G’s ultra-low latency and high-bandwidth, but without the need for expensive, energy-hungry on-board processors. Two ongoing projects now are collaborations between Telefonica and Unmanned Life on 5G autonomous drones, which show the value of investment in connected robots and drones (either ground or air drones) and having a proper orchestration of those drones for efficient inventory management and premises surveillance.  Traditional inventory management and surveillance can be enormously time-consuming and expensive. Not only is the labour spent on manual repetitive checks more profitably spent on a company’s core commercial purposes. Human attention span required is inherently subject to depletion, as individuals become weary of the menial and repetitive work involved. This in turn can lead to omissions, errors, safety concerns, delayed updates, and ultimately loss of revenue from inefficiency. In some contexts, inventory management and also surveillance/inspections can also involve potential risks also to physical safety – for instance where heavy containers or machinery are involved – which makes alert workers a particular necessity, and can have implications for insurance premiums as well. Surveillance by drones allows flexible and efficient security patrols, by routine, on-demand or reactive inspections and by taking immediate situation assessment and report any breach on the premises (e.g., a factory plant).

The intersection of AI, edge computing and 5G enabled Unmanned Life to either scan every available stock code or take images/videos of a site and display them in real time on a centralised interface, using camera systems integrated with AI and 5G to enable real-time data offloading. Drones could be deployed quickly in whatever numbers required thanks to 5G’s bandwidth, the only constraint being the physical confines of the premises itself, enabling transparent, repeatable and rapidly auditable processes. The system is able to orchestrate multiple autonomous devices, of different typology and manufacturers for a safe and efficient operation. The trials for both are being performed dozens of times at varying intervals, from which latency is being confirmed to be minimal, assuring confidence that the autonomous systems were fit for purpose, and the video feeds streams consistently.  Inefficient, expensive routes to asset tracking and security, which also brought with it safety concerns, could therefore be replaced with far more cost-effective, scalable and traceable approaches yielding greater confidence in the results.

Once proven, solutions of this kind can of course be applied to all manner of application scenarios, opening up far wider possibilities across smart cities and Industry 4.0 – Unmanned Life’s platform can therefore support integration and orchestration of different types of robots as well as drones, enabling them as autonomous work forces across different use cases including logistics, industrial surveillance, smart factories, inspections, maintenance, surveillance, emergency response, infrastructure inspection, traffic management and crowd control. Watch this space for further news on the outcomes of the trials, as we continue to work with Telefonica and Unmanned Life to unpack the lessons of these highly promising case studies.

Visit the GSMA Foundry Forge at Industry City, Hall 4, at MWC Barcelona 2022. for a demonstration from Unmanned Life of the surveillance scenario.

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