BT took a significant leap into the commercial drones market, as the company announced the formation of a new consortium to deliver a series of industry use cases across the UK’s first commercial drone corridor. BT, together with Altitude Angel and a number of UK tech start-ups, have been selected by UK Research and Innovation to deliver “Project XCelerate” – a key Future Flight Challenge project which will establish the UK’s first commercial drone corridor in open and unrestricted airspace, located south of Reading, Berkshire.
In summer 2021, the project will conduct flight trials along the 8km-long corridor to demonstrate how drones can operate safely in the same airspace as manned aviation. The consortium will demonstrate key industry use cases across healthcare, emergency services and infrastructure to illustrate how drone deliveries and inspection can bring countless benefits to businesses, the public sector and UK citizens.
Gerry McQuade, CEO of BT’s Enterprise unit, said: “As drone numbers continue to rise, there is an urgent need to safely integrate commercial drones into global airspace alongside manned aviation. 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.”
Richard Parker, Altitude Angel, CEO and founder said: “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. 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.”
Joining BT and Altitude Angel as part of the consortium are: drone technology experts from Dronecloud, HeroTech8 and Skyports, cyber security provider Angoka, and end user experts SkyBound Rescuer and DroneStream.
The key use cases which will be explored by the consortium include using drones to assist the emergency services, for example 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. A further use case is key 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’s strengths in reliable, secure, high bandwidth, low-latency radio and fixed connectivity mean it is ideally placed to lead the consortium. Its 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. 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.
BT will combine its experience with Altitude Angel’s leading experience in Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) platforms, together with its operation of the Arrow Drone Zone commercial drone corridor. UTM is a key enabler to address the safe and efficient integration of unmanned vehicles into airspace. Project XCelerate will combine a network of existing and new technologies underpinned by Altitude Angel’s proven UTM platform, incorporating existing air traffic management and communications systems and augmented by new technology, such as 5G.
Project XCelerate aims to widen the use of UTM systems by providing a framework which towns, cities, organisations and networks can follow in order to ‘open up’ portions of the sky. The project consortium is powerfully placed to realise the world’s first live commercial automated BVLOS flight zone in which any compatible vehicle can connect into and fly within safely.
Duncan is a technology professional with over 20 years experience of working in various IT roles. He has a interest in cyber security, and has a wide range of other skills in radio, electronics and telecommunications.