Drones will be the new normal.
AT&T hires thousands of technicians to repair and inspect infrastructure constantly.
Now those technicians have a new tool in their arsenal to help make their jobs faster and more grounded: Drones.
October is the first month of AT&T’s new drone program. Field technicians can now use drones on site whenever they need an extra set of eyes — like to inspect cell towers for the nests of endangered bird species (a problem that often requires a scientist and can take a week to assess without a drone) — or if there’s damage to infrastructure.
AT&T isn’t using its own fleet. Instead, the company is hiring local vendors across the country to pick the right drone for each job and fly it safely as needed.
The telecom giant started testing drones for field operations over the summer. And last week the company made headlines when it flew a drone over the seats of the empty Dallas Cowboys stadium to look for weak spots and dead zones in its cellular network.
Americans should expect see a lot more drones in commercial use. The U.S. only finalized its drone rules late last year, and drones are likely to start buzzing around all sorts of outdoor job sites.
Eventually, AT&T says it plans to use artificial-intelligence-equipped drones to help assess problems in the field autonomously, without requiring a technician to file a ticket.
But for now, it’s not even legal to fly a drone out of one’s line of sight. The FAA isn’t expected to finalize the technical recommendations it needs to legalize remote operator drone flying until at least 2019.
Here’s a video of a drone inspecting a cell tower for bird nests.