Reaching New Heights: Drone Applications for Communications Infrastructure Monitoring and Maintenance

4 min read
Jun 28, 2021

Since 2017, Vapor IO has been engaged with the city of Chicago and the City Tech Collaborative. Chicago was the very first city to host a Kinetic Edge and it’s the city we chose to implement our drone POCs, including the one described in this story below. We believe the Kinetic Edge and Kinetic Grid are the ideal platforms on which to build city-scale remote drone systems and we hope to enable them in all 36 markets we are currently building out. This article originally appeared on the City Tech Collaborative website. Please visit City Tech at

Drones enabled by artificial intelligence and machine learning are increasingly finding new applications across industries to improve or create new services. Many people are eagerly awaiting the day their latest online purchase or late-night pizza is delivered via drone. City Tech Collaborative (City Tech), Crown Castle, and our partners recently applied this technology to ensure that you’re able to place that order.

Crown Castle owns a comprehensive portfolio of shared communications infrastructure, providing people and communities with access to essential data, technology and wireless service. As technology advances, this infrastructure has grown to provide coverage across voice calls, cellular data, wireless broadband, television, and radio. Disruptions to this service extend beyond an inconvenience like waiting for your favorite show to buffer. There can be real human consequences for poor connectivity, such as dropped 9-1-1 calls or losing internet during a job interview.

Innovating with Drone Technology

City Tech and Crown Castle partnered with an ecosystem of experts to deploy a drone mission that demonstrated strategies for conducting remote infrastructure monitoring and maintenance. A drone equipped with precise geolocation can be equipped with edge-computing infrastructure to enable AI software so that users like Crown Castle can remotely inspect their facilities, understand where a problem is, and respond accordingly.

For this demonstration, the drone was deployed from a drone nest, enabled by Crown Castle space, power, and connectivity. Collocated with Vapor IO’s Kinetic Edge platform, Vapor IO provided housing for the drone itself as well as the 5G low-latency compute and high-volume storage that are crucial for real-time data gathering and analysis.

From the site, the drone automatically followed a pre-programmed path to travel from the nest to the communications tower located over a half-mile away. In the future, technology such as Kinetic Edge could enable autonomous missions. A drone pilot was on standby for manual intervention as needed and an observer was present to keep the aircraft within constant visual-line-of-sight. This proved the potential for unmanned missions to be integrated within Crown Castle’s operations and procedures for future inspections, especially considering advancement in the FAA’s regulations for beyond-visual-line-of-sight missions.

During the mission, the drone orbited the communications tower to capture and process imagery to create a digital twin – a detailed three-dimensional visualization of an asset. Digital twins support the ability to virtually manipulate components and test certain scenarios without requiring anyone to climb the tower. The digital twin is a new resource for Crown Castle to gather the data on the asset to perform certain inspection and engineering tasks.

“Connected infrastructure can enable smart city technologies like automated drone-based data projects and digital twins,” said Crown Castle Business Development Manager Hannah Tarrien. “Connecting communities with technology will enable innovation and create new opportunities for cities. We were proud to partner with City Tech for this project and look forward to exploring more transformation technology applications.”

On a larger scale, this drone demonstration highlights the relationship cities are seeing between its physical assets, the services they provide or support, and evolving applications of data to strengthen our understanding and decision making. Cities are gradually, but at an increasingly faster pace, becoming a collection of connected infrastructure – a physical world informed by the digital. Drones are proving to be one of many links that can make our cities smarter and more efficient. City Tech is looking forward to exploring emerging use-cases with similar goals to better inspect and improve our infrastructure by using data. From roads and rails to bridges and skyscrapers, we’re taking solutions to new heights.

About the Author: Kate Calabra is the Partnership Development Manager at City Tech. Kate works to facilitate strategic partnerships and collaboration to build solutions for critical city challenges. Before joining City Tech, Kate managed corporate sponsorships and coordinated national, educational events as a Senior Associate at the American Planning Association. Previously, she was a Fellow at the Metropolitan Planning Council, a Chicago-based nonprofit that develops and promotes strategies for equitable, regional growth. Kate holds a bachelor’s in Public Policy with a concentration in Urban Studies as well as a bachelor’s in Community Psychology from DePaul University. Currently, Kate is a member of Women in Planning and Development. Kate also serves on the Associate Board of Housing Opportunities for Women as well as the Events Committee for Territory, a nonprofit focused on strengthening civic engagement and community involvement among Chicago’s youth.

About City Tech Collaborative (City Tech): City Tech is an urban solutions accelerator that tackles problems too big for any single sector or organization to solve alone. City Tech’s work uses IoT sensing networks, advanced analytics, and urban design to create scalable, market ready solutions. Current initiatives address advanced mobility, healthy cities, connected infrastructure, and emerging growth opportunities. City Tech was born and raised in Chicago, and every city is a potential partner. Visit and follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn.


Kate Calabra


Kate Calabra is the Partnership Development Manager at City Tech. Kate works to facilitate strategic partnerships and collaboration to build solutions for critical city challenges. Before joining City Tech, Kate managed corporate…
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