UK Drone Corridor trials set for summer, 2021

The rest of the world is set to witness just how a drone corridor will work in real life, after the United Kingdom Research and Innovation institution (UKRI) – which funds research and innovation projects in the country – gave the thumps up to a consortium of drone industry players to start working on the first ever commercial corridor, under a key Future Flight Challenge venture called Project XCelerate.

The project will see the consortium – which comprises Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) solutions provider Altitude Angle; telecom giant British Telecom; drone technology experts from Dronecloud, HeroTech8 and Skyports; cyber security provider Angoka; and end user experts SkyBound Rescuer and DroneStream – conducting flight trials along the 8km-long corridor outside Reading, Berkshire; to demonstrate how drones can operate safely in the same airspace as manned aviation. Trials will be made for delivery drones, mainly in the areas of healthcare; and emergency services, to demonstrate how delivery and inspection drones can bring countless benefits to businesses, the public sector and UK citizens.

The project is set to take off in the summer of 2021.

In emergency services, for instance; the group will how drones can be used during road traffic collisions and search and rescue missions. Using 3D mapping techniques, drones can be used for forensics purposes to aid the police when responding to road traffic collisions and can also help to locate missing persons during search and rescue missions. Project XCelerate will prove how drone technology can be used to speed up response times for such incidents, helping the emergency services to improve the chances of survival, whilst also reducing costs.

The project will also demonstrate how automated drones can reduce the lead times for urgently needed medical deliveries, helping the healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors to improve standards of patient care.

Further trials will be done for drones in infrastructure inspection, where drones can be used to help assess damage or maintenance required for critical national infrastructure for the utilities, telecoms and transport sectors.

BT joined the consortium as the official connectivity provider, whose chief contribution will lie in providing reliable, secure, high bandwidth for the drones in flight and traffic management personnel on the ground.

“BT’s EE mobile network – the biggest and fastest in the UK, and the trusted provider behind the critical Emergency Services Network (ESN) – will ensure that a safe commercial drone corridor can be established with optimal mobile coverage at altitude,” the company said in a statement. “BT will provide the critical communications required for BVLOS (Beyond Visual Line of Sight) environments such as GPS location and remote identification, command and control, redundant geo-awareness, and live notifications (NOTAMs) sent directly to drones in-flight.”

Gerry McQuade, CEO of BT’s Enterprise unit, expressed his organisation’s excitement at being part of this unprecedented venture.

“As drone numbers continue to rise, there is an urgent need to safely integrate commercial drones into global airspace alongside manned aviation,” he said. “In showing how drones can deliver improved, potentially life-saving services to the public, we’re aiming to accelerate the adoption of fully automated drones in unrestricted UK airspace in a safe and responsible way.

“From improved mobility, connectivity, healthcare and manufacturing output, to reduced road congestion and pollution, automated drone technology will transform the quality of our lives. BT’s role in the consortium is to bring world-leading drone expertise together and to provide the secure and resilient mobile network connectivity, as well as our drone detection services. The power of EE’s 4G and 5G networks will ensure commercial drones remain connected for greater situational awareness, accurate positioning and to avoid collisions – ensuring that they can be operated safely and responsibly across UK skies.”

Altitude Angel, one of the pioneers of project XCelerate, which has been on board since the project was just an idea – will chip in with their experience in UTM platforms, which include the Arrow Drone Zone commercial drone corridor. The company will be tasked with ensuring a safe and efficient integration of unmanned vehicles into airspace, whereupon they will combine a network of existing and new technologies on their UTM platform, incorporating existing air traffic management and communications systems and augmented by new technology, such as 5G.

“Project XCelerate is bringing together experts and world leaders in their respective fields, something we’re very proud and excited to be a part of,” said Richard Parker, Altitude Angel, CEO and founder. “Our Arrow technology is truly ground-breaking and the key enabler to the project and we’re pleased to be deploying it for maximum benefit in the UK first.”


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