The UK’s Flying High project, created last November by the Nesta foundation and Innovate UK, a government research funding body, has published a detailed assessment of the c-drone industry in the United Kingdom which includes an online interactive map of over 700 companies and research centers, with a particular focus on drone use in cities.
The detailed, 250-page report offers a big-picture vision of what systems need to be in place for widespread c-drone use in cities, with recommendations such as city-based Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM or U-space) departments. Five urban areas in the UK were selected to participate in the study, each with a focus on a particular use case:
- London: Medical delivery
- West Midlands: Traffic incident response
- Preston: Urban construction
- Bradford: Fire and rescue service
- Southampton-Isle of Wight: Medical delivery
The report has detailed technical and economic feasibility studies for each project.
The interactive map was developed by Glass, a London-based startup which uses artificial intelligence to analyze websites at large scale.
Among the conclusions of the report:
- Cities will lead the initiatives. The benefits of c-drone use in urban areas is clear, in particular for public and emergency services as opposed to parcel delivery or air-taxis
- Public confidence is a key issue, with a lack of knowledge concerning the potential of c-drones
- Feasibility is a problem, with technical barriers to large-scale operations, in particular Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) in urban environments. Regulations and infrastructure need to be developed
- Stakeholder alignment: Government, business and regulators need to be pulling in the same direction
- The UK has fallen behind the US, the European Union, China, Switzerland, and Singapore in airspace regulation and support of industry, and needs to catch up
- Challenge prize programs to solve technical challenges can help develop the industry. Nesta proposes to design challenges over the next year which will lead to city test demonstrations in 2020.
Nesta cites examples of productive prize programs — transatlantic flight, driverless cars and private spacecraft — which raise public awareness and support.