Ericsson, Qualcomm and Italian drone specialist Dronus completed a proof-of-concept the network vendor claimed as a major advance in employing unmanned aerial vehicles in the manufacturing sector, using mmWave 5G in place of Wi-Fi.

The companies used a drone to perform inventory checks in Ericsson’s USA 5G Smart Factory, automatically scanning barcodes using a flight control structure optimised for the indoor setting.

Qualcomm’s QRB5165 processor powers the drone, which employs a 5G Nest docking station from Dronus and an “industrial grade” mmWave data card from M2M and IoT company Telit Cinterion which runs on a Snapdragon X55 5G modem-RF system.

Ericsson stated the drone can do more than the inventory management focused on in the trial, noting it features live video-streaming cameras which enable a “variety of sensing” capabilities using its private 5G network.

It added the drone is among the first “natively mmWave 5G devices in the factory”, marking a shift away from Wi-Fi or fixed-line connectivity.

There were caveats: Ericsson noted the trial showed how drones could automate inventory management “in certain types of warehouses” and is “not currently intended to address the needs” of its US factory. However, its head of Industry 4.0 at the facility Carlos Torres said it “helps lay the foundation for future integration of 5G-powered drones in industrial settings”.

Ericsson last week detailed plans to invest a further $50 million into the smart factory to advance production of 5G equipment in the US.