Advertisement

AT&T has already engaged with contractors to use drones for cell tower inspections, but the carrier said this week it wants to use artificial intelligence to automate that process entirely.

AT&T said its AT&T Labs video analytics team is currently working with the carrier’s National Drone Team to further develop a deep learning-based algorithm that can analyze footage and detect defects and anomalies in its infrastructure. The ultimate goal, AT&T said, is to use fully automated drones to more efficiently inspect and repair its 65,000 cell towers.

“Imagine in the future a drone stationed by a cell tower. It fully charges itself. It then inspects and communicates the condition of the tower – and potentially repairs it,” AT&T Labs VP of Advanced Technology Mazin Gilbert wrote in a blog post. “What we’re investigating is similar to what’s been happening with driverless cars. The ultimate goal is full automation, but we’re not there yet…With regulatory changes and further research, we hope that automated inspections will be possible.”

Around this time last year, AT&T revealed its use of contracted drones to inspect towers and announced the launch of the trial phase of its national drone program. The carrier said the goal of the latter was not only to further develop internal solutions, but also come up with both new network and customer solutions.

In February, AT&T heralded its successful tests of a drone-based flying cell-on-wheels, meant to improve coverage at events and in disaster situations. Unlike traditional ground-based COWs, AT&T indicated flying equipment can be easier to deploy in certain circumstances due to its reduced size. The setup flies at altitudes of more than 300 feet – or about 500 percent higher than a traditional COW mast – and has the potential to provide coverage to an area of about 40 square miles (watch it in action here).

Speaking at Mobile World Congress later that month, AT&T’s IoT President Chris Penrose told Wireless Week the carrier was looking at the use of drones for applications such as farming, disaster recovery, and other information gathering. The path of drone development, he also noted, will likely shadow the progression of autonomous cars.

“A lot of what you’re hearing in autonomous actually will take place with drones as well,” he said at the time. “Drones need to communicate with each other as well as being driven. So, I actually think we’ll take a lot of learning from autonomous cars.”

But AT&T is not alone in its work with drones. 

Fellow U.S. wireless carrier Verizon has also reported its use of drones for cell tower inspections and coverage testing in large venues. Like AT&T, Verizon is also working on a drone-based flying coverage solution. More on that here.

Advertisement
Advertisement