Farnborough 2022: UK funds Project Skyway ‘drone superhighway’ under UKRI research grant

The UK Research and Innovation Future Flight Challenge – announcing GBP73 million in funding (see news item) at Farnborough 2022 – includes Project Skyway, a network of drone superhighways that 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.

According to a press release by Altitude Angel, the 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 Skyway superhighway network aims to help unlock the huge potential offered by unmanned aerial vehicles and be a catalyst to enable growth in the urban air mobility industry.

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. Skyway does not 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.

Richard Parker, Altitude Angel, CEO and founder said: 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.”

Dave Pankhurst, BT’s Director of Drones, said: “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.”

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