Virgin Media O2 and Fotokite trial 5G connected tethered drone

In what is claimed to be the first event of its kind in the UK, Virgin Media O2 has conducted a field trial with Fotokite allowing first responders to quickly send a tethered drone up to 45 meters above an emergency situation, enabling emergency on-site personnel – and teams based in other locations connected by a 5G network – to immediately assess what is happening.

The trial, conducted at Millbrook Proving Ground – the Bedfordshire test facility that has been central in supporting trials of connected and autonomous vehicles – was intended to help develop a greater understanding of how 5G connectivity can be used to aid emergency services at trauma scenes, and remote or difficult-to-reach locations.

Available in three separate configurations – a rooftop box, transport case and tray mount – the Fotokite can operate reliably in the harshest conditions, day or night, while remaining elevated for as long as the mission requires. The technology is activated with just one button to launch and the same to land. It is straightforward to operate and can be flown with an A2 Certificate of Competence passed online, making it accessible to many in the UK.

“This is an important piece of technology and a further example of how 5G technologies can provide societal benefits,” said Rob Searle, head of 5G at Virgin Media O2. “We are relentlessly pursuing new 5G-enabled innovations that will make real differences to people’s lives, from smart cities to connected vehicles and our work with utilities companies to the NHS. This partnership with Fotokite is another example of this and could transform how emergency services operate and react to life-threatening situations.

Chris McCall, CEO at Fotokite, a Swiss company that has been developing actively tethered drones since 2014, added: “Safety-critical data-sharing in public safety applications can make a real impact when information is distributed quickly and reliably. Incident commanders and decision-makers have new capabilities when it comes to 5G-enabled technologies like the Fotokite Sigma, and we are excited to work with O2 in a joint mission to help those public safety teams save lives and stay safe.”

Martin Hunt, medical rescue coordinator for the British Automobile Racing Club and 5G technology programme manager at Virgin Media O2, said: “The use of drones for emergency responders is an increasingly valuable tool, as the rising number of applications and lower flying complexity make it quick and easy to manage.

“The Fotokite drone has both thermal imaging and RGB video camera capabilities, as well as the ability to fly for extended times in all weather conditions, providing crucial situational information and data for emergency teams. Being able to stream live feeds via a 5G network from the operational ‘hot zone’ of a major incident back to offsite strategic teams enables instant feedback and decision-making that could save lives.”