UK government releases GBP7 million for drone research ‘to build back better from COVID-19’

Drone operator HEROTECH8 is among a number of companies to benefit from UK government funding to conduct ground-breaking aviation projects solving global challenges announced on 9 November 2020. HEROTECH8 is providing its drone-in-a-box technology for the Medidrone project to support the fight against COVID19 – establishing a network of physical drone infrastructure and looking closely at the safety/risk associated with BVLOS operations.

MediDrone’s project will develop a network of small drones following paths between medical facilities, acting as high-speed shuttles for small medical packages. This will improve the delivery speed of critical medication, and limit human contact with supplies to reduce the risk of transmitting COVID-19 to vulnerable patients

The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy plans to provide a total of GPB33.5 million for 48 projects are part of efforts to build back better from COVID-19 and support innovative new enterprises. The projects include using drones and aviation technologies to solve major global challenges, including coronavirus pandemic and climate change, while creating new jobs across the UK.

In this first GP7 million wave, the government has selected 20 winning ideas. The 20 winning ideas will receive a share of £7 million funding ranging from the development of drones capable of delivering COVID-19 medical supplies to remote areas, to technology to enable remote inspections of infrastructure and construction sites – removing the need for workers to potentially be put at risk.

The £33.5 million investment comes from the Future Flight Challenge, which aims to increase mobility, reduce reliance on road travel thereby improving road congestion, and increase UK manufacturing opportunities.

Today the first wave of 20 winners have been announced, with more projects to be announced in the coming weeks.

Of these, 9 projects are focused on developing technology to aid the response to the coronavirus pandemic. This includes the development of unmanned drones to deliver medication, reducing human contact and, consequently, transmission of the virus.

Advances in alternative, green energy sources to power aircraft, including hydrogen and electricity, are also a key feature of some of the winning proposals.

The projects include:

  • Windracers SWARM technology (Southampton, Bristol): This project will develop technology which allows multiple drones to fly in close formations for a variety of purposes including fighting fires and providing humanitarian aid
  • Dock-to-Dock (Cardiff): Dock-to-Dock will demonstrate an alternative to road transportation between coastal cities, developing a pilot project to deliver goods by air using clean energy: initially between Avonmouth Docks in Bristol and Cardiff Docks in Wales. The project will focus on vehicle performance and the infrastructure necessary for hydrogen-powered electric aircraft which take-off and land vertically, and therefore don’t require runways
  • NAPKIN (Greater London): By looking at different aspects of air travel – including aircraft, airports, airspace, airlines, passengers and communities – NAPKIN will help accelerate the introduction of sustainable, low and zero carbon commercial flights. This includes project partners Cranfield Aerospace, GKN and Rolls-Royce, who are developing conceptual designs for electric aircraft, while airport partners are using their expertise to assess the viability of plans for sustainable flights
  • Drone Defence (Nottinghamshire): Drone Defence Services and the University of Nottingham will develop sensor technology to track aircraft. By monitoring all aircraft, Drone Defence aims to provide increased airspace awareness which will prevent drone misuse and enable drones to safely share the sky with other aircraft
  • Gold Dragon (Llanbedr, Wales): this project will develop sensor technology for unmanned drones, prioritising health and emergency services including the Police, Coastguard, and Mountain Rescue. It is linked closely with skills development and STEM engagement activities with Gwynedd Council and the Welsh Government. In addition, a recent Economic Impact Assessment estimated that successful development at the Snowdonia Aerospace Centre could contribute 515 jobs to the local area.

The UK government announcement is part of wider support for the aviation and aerospace industries worth over £9.5 billion in R&D grants, loans and guarantees, and support for exports and exporters.

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