5G is Great for Drones: Testbed Aims to Help Developers Unleash Full Potential

A wireless 5G autonomous drone testing platform in North Carolina has added advanced capabilities aimed at helping develop exciting new use cases. The test bed, known as AERPAW, is operated by the Platforms for Advanced Wireless Research Project Office (PPO) and is co-led by US Ignite and Northeastern University. It is funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation and PAWR industry consortium.

Among the new capabilities are four additional wireless towers, a total of eight unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and a flight field that is roughly triple the size of the previously covered area. AERPAW features a digital twin environment that emulates radio software, signal traffic generation and vehicle control. This enables researchers to develop and run virtual experiences and then transfer the software to the real-world outdoor environment.

The new capabilities are powerful when used together, said Ellen Zegura, division director for NSF’s Division of Computer and Network Systems.

“The PAWR platforms cover a diverse set of geographies and research domains, and we are inspired by what AERPAW has added in this expansion phase,” Zegura said in a press release. “The tight coupling between AERPAW’s digital twin and its outdoor testbed provide unique opportunities for interdisciplinary research. By hosting emulation software for both radio signaling and vehicle control, AERPAW is enabling sophisticated modeling alongside the resources for real-world testing. It is a game-changer for development in the fields of wireless networking and unmanned aerial systems.”

AERPAW launched in 2019 as part of the U.S. National Science Foundation’s PAWR program. It is designated as an Open Test and Integration Center (OTIC) by the O-RAN ALLIANCE.

Currently, AERPAW offers:

· Programmable and commercial wireless infrastructure

· Software defined radios (SDRs) that enable research with open source software stacks for optimizing radio signal performance

· Ericsson equipment enabling studies of mid-band spectrum use

· A 5G link for high-throughput communications

· Keysight RF sensors allowing real-time spectrum monitoring and signal classification.

Drone-based networks being tested at AERPAW have access to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), drone pilots, flight waivers and an FCC Innovation Zone license. Those using the testbed can access the digital twin environment, select virtual resources, and run pre-programmed sample experiments or create code for custom experiments.


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