Qualcomm, AT&T prep for commercial drone use

What happens when unmanned aircraft tap into 4G LTE networks? These tests aim to find out.

Qualcomm's drone platform will be used to test network reliability for piloting beyond line of sight.

The Federal Aviation Administration might still be working out how commercial unmanned aerial systems, or drones, fit into US airspace, but that's not stopping Qualcomm from researching how to make the skies -- and the ground below -- safer right now.

Qualcomm will work with AT&T and its commercial 4G LTE network to begin trials to analyze how drones can be used safely and securely.

The trials will test coverage, signal strength and mobility across network cells and how the small unmanned aircraft function in flight to make possible capabilities such as flying beyond an operator's line of sight, according to Qualcomm.

Testing will start this month, based on Qualcomm's Snapdragon Flight drone development platform, which was previewed in January at CES 2016. The chipmaker says its FAA-blessed test environment simulates real-world environments including commercial and residential areas and FAA-controlled airspace.