BT is leading a consortium that will test commercial drones south of Reading, Berkshire from summer 2021.
The telecoms giant is working with Altitude Angel and a number of UK tech-startups as part of UK Research and Innovations’s Project XCelerate, which will establish the UK’s first commercial drone corridor.
Trials will take place along 8km of unrestricted airspace to demonstrate key industry use cases across healthcare, emergency services and infrastructure to illustrate how drone deliveries and inspection can bring benefits to businesses, the public sector and UK citizens.
Gerry McQuade, chief executive 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.”
BT’s role in the consortium is to provide secure and resilient mobile network connectivity, as well its drone detection technology.
BT mobile telecoms brand EE will provide 4G and 5G connectivity to improve greater situational awareness and accurate drone positioning.
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.
Key use cases for drones
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, while also reducing costs.
The project will also demonstrate how automated drones can reduce the lead times for urgently needed medical deliveries.
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.
Project XCelerate aims to widen the use of Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) systems by providing a framework which towns, cities, organisations and networks can follow in order to ‘open up’ portions of the sky.