The UK government has today announced it has given the go-ahead to for the world’s largest and longest network of drone superhighways to be built in the UK. The drone superhighway will link cities and towns throughout the midlands to the southeast of the country, with the option to expand the corridor to any other locations in the country.
This ambitious new transport capability will be achieved thanks to a consortium led by Reading-based UTM (Unified Traffic Management) solution provider, Altitude Angel, alongside BT, supplying expertise and connectivity through its mobile network, EE, and a number of UK tech start-ups. Together, the group will build and develop 165 miles (265km) of ‘drone superhighways’ connecting airspace above Reading, Oxford, Milton Keynes, Cambridge, Coventry, and Rugby over the next two years.
The plans for the superhighway, submitted under the moniker ‘Project Skyway’, 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.
The government will officially announce the project at Farnborough Air Show on Monday, 18 July.
The Skyway superhighway network will help unlock the huge potential offered by unmanned aerial vehicles and be a catalyst to enable growth in the urban air mobility industry.
Richard Parker, Altitude Angel, CEO and founder said: “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’. 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.
“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.”
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.”
Jef Geudens, Head of Technology at Skyports Drone Services said: “The Skyway project is an important step in the commercial scale-up of BVLOS UAS operations which will enable high-density UAS operations between key hubs along dedicated corridors. As experienced Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) drone operators, with thousands of hours of flight experience across the UK’s skies, Skyports’ role on the project is to demonstrate the feasibility of a drone superhighway through integration with technology systems and extensive test flights.”
Councillor Tony Page, Reading’s Lead Councillor for Climate Strategy and Transport, said: “Today’s announcement, which includes a flight route from Reading as one part of the world’s largest and longest network of drone superhighways, is excellent news for the town.
“Reading has always been at the forefront of technological advances and has long had a reputation for unrivalled connectivity and as the centre of innovative IT and technology. I’m also pleased that this ambitious project is being spearheaded by a Reading based company.
“This project will put Reading at the forefront of an initiative which has huge potential. As a Council, we strive to ensure our town’s economic growth goes hand-in-hand with achieving our climate goals. The potential access to ‘green’ transportation here complements our own strides towards zero carbon, as well as unlocking the economic potential of harnessing this new technology.”
Skyway partners will collaborate to deploy a ground-based, networked 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.
What will Skyway achieve?
Drones today cannot be flown without a human pilot, except in rare circumstances usually involving a flight ban to other aircraft. The power of drones to transform lives and revolutionise business is inhibited by this situation since every drone requires a human pilot, and Skyway will obliterate the obstacle by enabling any drone manufacturer to connect a drone’s 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.
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 don’t need to compromise payload, range or efficiency and can ‘tap into’ even higher resolution data, from multiple sensors, from the ground-based network.