Drone flights to be tried-out near Reading

A new project has been launched by BT using drone technology – which it is hoped could help emergency services as well as locate missing people.

Flight trials are set to begin next summer as part of Project XCelerate – which will take place along the 8km-long corridor in the south of Reading.

The people behind the experiment hope to show that it’s possible for drones to run safely in the same airspace as airplanes.

To help integrate drones into the UK airspace, BT have paired up with Altitude Angel – who provide Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) software. Joining them in the project includes other drone companies such as: Dronecloud, DroneStream, SkyBound Rescuer, HeroTech8, Skyports and Angoka, who specialise in providing cyber security.

BT and their partners won the Future Flight Challenge Fund, meaning that the UK, for the first time, will have a drone corridor.

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.”

The usage of drones will help many jobs in a number of ways. These include:

  • Helping the emergency services e.g. during road traffic collisions and search and rescue missions
  • Using 3D mapping techniques, the drones can be used for forensics to help the police when they’re at a crime scene
  • They can help locate missing people during search and rescue missions
  • They can also speed up the response times for incidents like road traffic collisions. This will benefit the emergency services because it will improve the chances of people surviving as well as reduce cost
  • They can help reduce the waiting time for medical deliveries that are needed as soon as possible. As a result, it will help the healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors to improve their standards of caring for patients
  • They can also be used to check for damage or maintenance on infrastructure for the utilities, telecoms and transport sectors

Drones will be tried out on a flight corridor near Reading

The drones will be supplied connectivity by EE – who will make sure the drone corridor has the best mobile coverage when they’re up in the air.

Mr McQuade, added: “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.”

In addition to being connected through mobile coverage, BT are also going to attach other systems that can be used to communicate, and which will be helpful for places that are beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS).

These include: GPS location and remote identifications, command and control, redundant geo-awareness and live notifications (NOTAMS) that will be sent to the drone while it’s in mid-flight.

Depending on the success of Project XCelerate, the plan is for towns, cities, organisations and networks to be able to use the drones in the future for their required purposes.

Duncan Walker, Skyports CEO said: “Skyports is already working with the NHS in Scotland to assist with the response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic by transporting medical supplies and samples between healthcare sites and integrating our drone delivery service into their supply chain.

“In Project XCelerate, we will be able to contribute our expertise and experience of flying BVLOS missions and benefit from the means to operate in non-segregated airspace – essential to achieving permanent, full-scale commercial drone delivery operations.”

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