Extreme weather events, such as bushfires, cyclones and floods, have a devastating impact on people and communities in Australia. We are already using drones to inspect our network infrastructure and provide rapid assessments of any damage when disaster strikes to help us restore services faster.

As part of Telstra Vantage 2018 we took the opportunity to brief media on our new drone technologies that use our mobile network to assist authorities in disaster management situations. With 5G on the near horizon, we are working on how drones can be used to go even further in helping communities and governments manage and recover after a natural disaster.

Our new drone technology was trialled in the field earlier in September in Laverton, Victoria, where the Telstra Labs team executed a drone swarm and a mobile ‘cell on wings’ demonstration using 4GX on the Telstra mobile network.

The drone swarm is a group of drones controlled by a single pilot flying in formation and using vision capture to quickly and efficiently map an area impacted by fire or flood. As the technology matures, allowing for more than one drone per pilot, drone swarms will be able to be deployed routinely to simultaneously cover and search a large area – something that could save lives in an emergency rescue situation, and time and money in less dramatic situations.

Computer vision capability enables the cameras on the drones to identify specific objects, such as people and vehicles. This can help emergency services operators to locate people who require rescue, and also in assessing the overall scale of damage over a large area.

The ‘cell on wings’ is a mobile small cell mounted on a drone in order to temporarily boost mobile network coverage in a local area, which is particularly useful in emergency situations.

Telstra’s mobile network is an essential element in enabling the use of drones in emergency situations. The network allows us to quickly send and receive data from the drone, and allows the pilots to safely set up missions for multiple drones through a single platform with visibility and control over all the drones that are flying.

In the future, 5G will allow operators using this type of technology to run missions end-to-end with an extensive data uplink capability. This would mean being able to stream large sets of live data (such as high resolution video) back to operators in real time, and back to the server for even more intelligent decision making.

5G’s low latency will allow much more precise real time control over drones and other remotely-operated vehicles over the next decade.

Telstra is committed to being the leading enabler and communications backbone of the future safe and secure drone-based economy.