- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 6, 2016

A drone program launched near Dallas, Texas, this week hopes to boost cellphone network coverage in sports arenas and other densely populated places with the help of flying robots.

The Dallas Cowboy’s home turf hosted a drone demonstration on Wednesday highlighting how AT&T plans to use unmanned aerial vehicles to search for spots where cell signals are weak.

Scouring every inch of the 80,000-seat AT&T Stadium for “dead zones” has previously been a weeklong process that required hauling a 30-pound backpack around the arena and searching for weak signals. By putting the same technology in a remote-controlled drone, however, the telecom said it can screen an entire stadium for weak signals in a matter of hours, reducing the time and resources needed to find every dead zone between end zones.

As a result, AT&T aims to more quickly find and fix areas with limited coverage so attendees of football games and other events can stay connected even when tens of thousands of people are connected to the same cell network.

“We fly drones here so we can understand what is going on at each seat in the stadium so we understand the user frustration,” Art Pregler, AT&T drone program director, explained to a local CBS affiliate. “From that drone information we can target specifically where we need to make upgrades to our network, and we can add that capacity.”

AT&T got the green-light to begin using the drones on Monday and demonstrated the technology to reporters at the stadium two days later.

“As far as I know, I haven’t heard anyone else doing this,” Mr. Pregler told the Dallas Business Journal.

“In the past, we used to walk,” added Paula Doublin, AT&T’s assistant vice president of construction and engineering. “Now, we can fly.”

Mr. Preglar said the new method of using drones to diagnose connection problems could soon be an industry standard.

AT&T’s drones are available to the telecom’s employees in all 50 states as of this week, he said.

Next, Mr. Pregler said AT&T is trying to find a way to implement artificial intelligence to allow the drones to diagnose connectivity problems and find fixes on its own.

“We’re working within AT&T labs to actually have drones make decisions,” he told the Dallas Business Journal.

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