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Qualcomm’s latest drone platform features 5G and seven cameras

Aug 17, 2021 — by Eric Brown — 525 views

The “Qualcomm Flight RB5 5G Platform” runs Linux on Qualcomm’s octa-core, 15-TOPS QRB5165 and offers 7x up to 8K30 cameras for 350° obstacle avoidance plus WiFi 6 and 5G for autonomous beyond line-of-sight operation.

Qualcomm Technologies announced its third-generation reference drone platform and the first to support cellular communications. The Qualcomm Flight RB5 5G Platform runs Linux and ROS2 on the Qualcomm QRB5165, a robotics oriented variant of the Snapdragon 865, which also appeared on its 96Boards-compatible Qualcomm Robotics RB5 Platform for terrestrial robots. Qualcomm also offers a similar QCS8250 SoC aimed at IoT.



Qualcomm Flight RB5 5G Platform (left) and reverse view with stand
(click images to enlarge)

The Qualcomm Flight RB5 5G Platform is billed as “the world’s first drone platform and reference design to offer both 5G and AI capabilities,” as well as one of the world’s most powerful development platforms for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). The kit, which is also touted for its “ultra-low power consumption,” is available for pre-order at $3,999.99 and will ship in Q4 2021.

The RB5 5G kit follows the original, Snapdragon 801 based Snapdragon Flight, which powers the Ingenuity helicopter and also plays a role on NASA’s Perseverance Martian rover, and the Snapdragon 820 powered Qualcomm Flight Pro. Both kits are limited to WiFi for communications.

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The 5G modem, which is said to be 5G mmWave capable, not only provides faster communications for smoother visual streaming but enables beyond visual line-of-sight (BVLOS) operation to support safer, more reliable flight. For areas without 5G coverage, there is also an 802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6) modem.

The RB5 5G platform’s other major improvement is its array of 7x cameras, compared to 4x on Flight Pro and 2x on the original. The cameras support up to [email protected] and [email protected] recording along with digital zoom, EIS, horizon leveling, and multi-cam concurrency. The key benefit here is a capability for 360-degree obstacle avoidance and visual inertial odometry (VIO), which combined with the 15-TOPS AI processing on the QRB5165 enable a more robust autonomous flight capability.

The Qualcomm Flight RB5 5G Platform supports Miracast streaming from the drone for low-latency first person viewing (FPV). You also get the usual manual Flight Control capability and a “follow me” mode.

In a briefing, Qualcomm’s Dev Singh, Qualcomm’s Senior Director of Business Development and GM of Robotics, Drones and Intelligent Machines, said the platform’s BVLOS capabilities should help expand the use of Qualcomm based drones to more applications beyond film and entertainment. These include security and emergency response, medical supplies delivery, defense, agriculture, mapping, and inspection of construction sites, utility poles, and windmill towers.



Qualcomm’s Dev Singh with RB5 5G based drone (left) and RB5 5G carrying a package

The VIO capability is particularly important for navigation beyond line of sight, especially when there is no GPS available. “VIO uses the downward facing cam so you navigate by vision processing of objects on ground,” explained Singh. “VIO is part of a whole stack that improves navigation, similar to what is called VLSAM on terrestrial robots.”

Qualcomm’s QRB5165 is built around the 7nm-fabricated, octa-core, Snapdragon 865. The four fastest cores are Cortex-A77 based Kryo 585 cores clocked at up to 2.84GHz. There are also 4x Cortex-A55-like Kyro cores clocked to 1.8GHz, a 587MHz Adreno 650 GPU, and a Hexagon 698 DSP with a 15-TOPS Hexagon Tensor Accelerator NPU.

The Qualcomm QRB5165, which is deployed via an unnamed compute module, is further equipped with the Spectra 480 ISP with support for Dolby Vision video capture, 8K recording, HD slow-mo, 4K HDR, and more. An Engine for Video Analytics (EVA) works with the ISP to process 7x concurrent camera inputs with simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM), object detection and classification, autonomous navigation, and path planning. The Qualcomm QRB5165 also integrates a FIPS 140-2 certified Qualcomm Secure Processing Unit with secure boot, crypto, TEE, and camera-level security.



Qualcomm Flight RB5 5G Platform internal view
(click image to enlarge)

In terms of mechanical specs, the drone has a take-off weight of 1235g and measures 480mm across with a payload capacity of 1kg. Each of the four propellers are 10 inches long and each are powered by a Holybro 2216-880KV motor. The frame is implemented with a Holybro S500 V2 frame kit.

The kit’s sensor selection includes 2x TDK CH-201 ultrasonic rangefinder sensors, a TDK ICM-42688-P IMU, a TDK ICP-10100 barometer, and a GPS/magnetometer (Holybro). There is also a set of image sensors including a tracking sensor (global shutter VGA), high-resolution 4K30 sensor, and front/rear stereo sensors (global shutter VGA). There are six 4-lane MIPI-CSI2 camera interfaces for up to 7x cameras.

For I/O connections, the product provides 1x USB 3.1 Hub, 1x USB-C OTG, 2x GPIO, 1x I2C and 4x SPI. Communications options are WiFi, 4G LTE and a 5G add-on (with Quectel RM502Q-AE).  The unit’s ModalAI power module v3 provides 5V/6A. And the drone uses a 4S battery with XT60 connector (6S with expanded battery standoffs). Remote control is provided by a Spektrum DSMX receiver.

The open software packages supported by the Qualcomm Flight RB5 5G drone kit include Ubuntu 18.04, Linux Kernel 4.19, OpenCV, TensorFlow Lite ROS v.1/v.2, and RB5 Flight SDK hosted by ModalAI.

Qualcomm is working with Verizon to complete network testing of the RB5 platform for the Verizon 5G network. The chipmaker expects the platform to be offered via the Verizon Thingspace Marketplace. Testimonials in the announcement include comments from reps of Verizon Skyward, AT&T, Asian Pacific Telecom, China Unicom, Korea Telecom, and Taiwan Mobile. There are also quotes from Everguard.ai, Juganu, LGU+, ModalAI, MITRE, TDK, and Zyter.


Further information

The Qualcomm Flight RB5 5G drone reference design is available for pre-sale for $3,999.99 at ModalAI. Shipments are expected in Q4 2021. More information may be found in Qualcomm’s announcement and product page. Additional information is provided on ModalAI’s technical docs page.

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