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How 5G and Drones Support Post-Pandemic Economic Resiliency in the U.S.



The COVID pandemic alerted us to how quickly the economy can derail and how easily supply chains and global markets can break down. It also forced people to accelerate new ways of looking at how we work and interact with the world around us. 

The timing of this reframed analysis of our world coincides with the maturity tipping point of 5G.  Capabilities of 5G technology are finally coming into focus, and faster cellphones are merely scratching the surface. The revolutionary underpinnings of 5G will finally unlock the full potential of uncrewed aerial systems (UAS). 

5G-enabled UAS use cases are more than just cool, futuristic services that once made good science fiction. They provide socio-economic benefits that will help drive resiliency in the post-pandemic economy. However, to realize these benefits, industries must embrace the challenges and collaborate to shepherd these services from concept to commercialization. 

5G Connectivity Will Alter How We Work 

Virtual communications via 4G LTE united dispersed teams and opened doors to remote work. 5G will further redefine how workers engage with their jobs, and drones will play a significant role in this emergent paradigm. New levels of connectivity for uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs) will unlock productivity and untether workers from physical spaces, allowing them to collect more data and conduct more actions – typically with fewer requisite human resources. 

Furthermore, 5G will usher in a new wave of rapid, data-driven decision-making. Advanced capabilities will transform every industry, creating new efficiencies, revenue streams, products, and services. Example 5G impacts include: 

  • Logistics – by reducing the costs and dangers of delivery. 
  • Agriculture – by surveying, mapping, and inspecting crops and irrigation systems.  
  • Energy – by fostering sustainability through smart factories and intelligent energy grids. 
  • Retail – by personalizing in-store experiences. 
  • Healthcare – by virtualizing delivery of care. 

According to research from Accenture, 5G will drive up to $2.7 trillion in additional gross output growth between 2021-2025 and add as much as $1.5 trillion to U.S. GDP, while creating or transforming up to 16 million jobs across all sectors of the economy. (1)

5G Drones Drive Efficiency and Safety 

Though not the only factor, drones will be a significant component of the socio-economic benefits from widespread 5G adoption. UAS use cases, particularly those incorporating operation beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS), will contribute economic impact by: 

  • Enabling faster, safer, and more effective inspections. 
  • Enhancing operational efficiencies. 
  • Delivering items to areas with limited ground access. 
  • Improving working conditions and worker safety. 

Beyond economic impacts, industrial 5G UAS use cases offer social value, such as combatting driver shortages and reducing the number of workplace injuries. Fewer humans are put in dangerous situations when machines can accomplish those risky tasks effectively. UAVs also encourage sustainability by reducing the need for large, gas-powered vehicles. 

The Drones Are in Motion 

Motivated by social and economic benefits, businesses and governments are already investigating UAS operations. For example, New York City is pursuing UAVs for safer and faster building inspection. (2) At the 2021 Open Generation 5G Summit, NUAIR CEO Ken Stewart offered tangible support for incorporating UAS into use cases like infrastructure inspection.  

“In New York State, we have 17,600 bridges, all of which have to be inspected every two years,” Stewart noted. “Using drones versus traditional methods means we can save about $17,000 per bridge. And that has to be done every two years. That’s about $140 million in savings for the state of New York by moving to this technology.”

“In New York State, we have 17,600 bridges, all of which have to be inspected every two years. Using drones versus traditional methods means we can save about $17,000 per bridge. And that has to be done every two years. That’s about $140 million in savings for the state of New York by moving to this technology.” 

New York is exploring UAS technology by conducting experiments in the nation’s first 5G-enabled aviation testbed, located at an FAA-designated site in central New York that NUAIR manages.  

Other use cases for 5G drones, ranging from agriculture and delivery to inventory management and surveillance, all come with economic benefits. For example,  according to research by the American Farm Bureau Federation the average U.S. farmer using agricultural drones sees a return on investment of $12 per acre for corn, and $2 to $3 per acre for soybeans and wheat. (3)

We Must Overcome Challenges Now to Reap Rewards Later 

The integration of 5G technology with UAS creates a powder keg of economic impact by realizing new efficiencies and providing the surveillance of areas which are hazardous or difficult to access by humans today. Drones, especially those operating autonomously or BVLOS, add social benefits by protecting human life and encouraging sustainability. 

Challenges remain before we can light the fuse on this explosive potential, but investing now to solve the challenges to commercialization will build a foundation for economic resiliency in the new connected world powered by 5G and next generations to come. 

See how members of MITRE Engenuity Open Generation are innovating 5G drone uses in our detailed UAS Use Cases Report. 

  1. https://www.accenture.com/_acnmedia/PDF-146/Accenture-5G-WP-US.pdf#zoom=50 
  2. https://statetechmagazine.com/article/2022/01/how-can-drones-be-used-city-building-inspections 
  3. https://insideunmannedsystems.com/u-s-farms-embrace-drone-technology-benefits/ 

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