Qualcomm earns chance to test UAS in San Diego

By Luke Geiver | April 14, 2016

Qualcomm’s place in the unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) industry will now be directly linked to its testing facility in San Diego. The tech giant recently received a certificate of authorization from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to perform UAS test flights at its San Diego campus. Qualcomm earned the FAA COA for testing below 200 feet despite being within class B airspace only a few miles from an airport with an operational air traffic control tower.

The company intends to focus on two testing areas: autonomous operations and flight communication links. Qualcomm has developed algorithms and advanced computer vision engines that, when placed on a UAV platform, can perform obstacle avoidance, waypoint to waypoint navigation, landing zone determination and stabilized hovering. The system is referred to as the Snapdragon flight and development platform. Earlier this year, Qualcomm unveiled the system through a major presentation at the Consumer Electronics Association show in Las Vegas.

In addition to its goals of achieving fully autonomous flight, Qualcomm will also test a 4G/5G communication link at its San Diego testing grounds. Using its own 5G technology—which may not be available until 2020—Qualcomm will work to enable beyond visual ling of sight and night flights. The company believes UAS can rely on cellular networks because the existing or soon to come cellular networks have full protection against interference, the company said. “Unlicensed spectrum bands, such as those used today for Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, are, on the other hand, poorly suited for the UAS control link because these bands lack interference protection pursuant to longstanding FCC unlicensed device regulations.”