Qualcomm has received permission from the FAA to fly drones in a radius of 0.15 nautical miles around its San Diego campus. The flights are restricted to an altitude of 200 feet above ground, but that’s largely enough to test drone communications over commercial (and private) networks, along with autonomous flying in real-world conditions.
Qualcomm is required to file a rather large amount of paperwork for every flight, since it has started flying under the new protocols since last Friday (April 1st 2016). That’s particularly true since there is also a military facility with military aircrafts flying in the area.
Prior to this permission, Qualcomm engineers could either fly drones in large buildings/labs/hangars or go to a remote area far away from military infrastructures or commercial airports. The new situation will accelerate the development of commercial drone applications, mainly in terms of communications (LTE and 5G – most consumer drones use WIFI) and autonomous flights.
The use of commercial networks will be indispensable if drones are to fly beyond WIFI Range. Drones will have to use different cell towers along the way. Real world conditions such as wind, sun exposure or rain could test the resilience of both hardware and algorithms. This is not possible to test in the lab.
Qualcomm is using its Snapdragon architecture that currently powers phones such as the Galaxy S7 or the LG G5 to pilot drones (among other things) via the Qualcomm Snapdragon Flight drone development platform. Qualcomm has also made a video about this: