UK to open world’s biggest drone superhighway

The drone corridor that started out as a trial in Reading last year under Project Xcelerate must have worked a treat for the – because the UK government has been convinced enough by the project to open up a much, much longer drone super highway in the country.

Yesterday, the UK government has today announced it has given the go-ahead for the establishment of a 265km-long network of superhighways linking cities and towns throughout the midlands to the southeast of England – with the option to expand the corridor to more locations in the country.

The pilot will run under the moniker, Project Skyway and is scheduled to be complete by 2024.

Connecting the airspace above Reading, Oxford, Milton Keynes, Cambridge, Coventry, and Rugby over the next two years, Project Skyway will be the largest and longest network of drone superhighways to be built in the world.

The project is part of a £273million funding package for the aerospace sector in the UK, and includes drones delivering mail to the Isles of Scilly and medication across Scotland.

In a statement, Reading-based Unified Traffic Management (UTM) solution provider, Altitude Angel said the new corridor will be seeing the light of day, thanks to the financial and technological support of a consortium led by Altitude Angel alongside BT (which will supply expertise and connectivity through its mobile network, EE) and involving a number of UK tech start-ups.

 “The capability we are deploying and proving through Skyway can revolutionise the way we transport goods and travel in a way not experienced since the advent of the railways did in the 18th century: the last ‘transport revolution’,” said Richard Parker, Altitude Angel, CEO and founder.

Basically, Project Skyway is looking for lasting solutions to integrate drone technology into busy urban skies without having to ground or ban other air traffic; and the consortium seeks to achieve this by enabling drone manufacturers to connect their drones’ guidance and communication systems into a virtual superhighway system, which takes care of guiding drones safely through ‘corridors’, onward to their destinations, using only a software integration.

“Simply put, this system will ensure any company can safely get airborne and build a scalable drone solution to benefit society, businesses, and industry, on level and fair terms, accessible to everyone,” Altitude Angel said.

“This innovation is possible because Skyway doesn’t rely on drones carrying specific onboard sensors to ‘see’ other aerial traffic: instead, it proposes to put higher-power, better sensors from multiple manufacturers on the ground, along a sensor network, which in turn is then processed in real-time to provide guidance.

This means drones will not need to compromise their payload, range or efficiency and can ‘tap into’ even higher resolution data, from multiple sensors, from the ground-based network.

“The ARROW® technology we are building here is transformative – it is the basis of Skyway and the only scalable, viable mechanism to start integration of drones into our everyday lives, safely and fairly, ensuring that airspace can remain open, and crewed and uncrewed aviation from any party can safely coexist,” Parker added.

“Skyway gives us not just the opportunity to ‘level up’ access to green transportation across Britain, but we can benefit first and export it globally. We are therefore thrilled to be flying the flag on the global stage for UK Plc.”

Skyway partners will collaborate to deploy a ground-based, networked Detect and Avoid (DAA) solution, where possible on existing infrastructure, which is hooked up to Altitude Angel’s global UTM system, which ‘stitches’ data from multiple sources together in real-time to create an ultra-high-resolution moving map of the low-altitude sky.

“Towns and cities along the superhighways and the businesses, and organisations within them will be able to benefit from automated drones at just the touch of a button: all flown safely and alongside other aviation.”

The plans for the superhighway were proposed as part of the Department for Business, Energy & Strategy (BEIS) InnovateUK programme which aims to support business growth through the development and commercialisation of new products, processes, and services. 

Altitude Angel reckons the Skyway superhighway network will help unlock the potential offered by unmanned aerial vehicles and be a catalyst to enable growth in the urban air mobility industry.

Drones are already making a huge impact in the delivery space in the UK, with the Royal Mail having just embarked on an ambitious plan to use drones to deliver mail to fifty routes in the next three years.

And just two weeks ago, the National Health Service announced that it would be trying the drones in delivering cancer drugs from Portsmouth to the isle of Wight, in a bid to make it easier for patients to access their medical supplies and avoiding long journeys to and from health centres.

About the latest project, Dave Pankhurst, BT’s Director of Drones, said; “The social and economic potential of drones is immense and requires close industry collaboration to fully unlock these opportunities in a safe and responsible way.

“It’s an exciting time to be part of such a powerful consortium. Project Skyway will be crucial to showcase how the UK can not only lead the creation of new jobs and public services, but form the backbone of how we integrate drones into our daily lives.

“Cellular connectivity, and a secure, resilient 4G and 5G mobile network, will continue to enable the rapid growth of the drone market. Through our EE network, BT is providing the UK’s largest and most reliable network to Project Skyway, to keep drones connected to ARROW® so they can receive greater situational awareness and tactical collision avoidance instructions from the autopilot system, and stream key video feeds such as search and rescue footage back to control rooms.” 


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