BT led consortium wins Future Flight Challenge Fund project - backed by the Government’s Industrial Strategy - to revolutionise the way people, goods and services use drone technology.
Project XCelerate will establish the UK’s first commercial drone corridor in open and unrestricted airspace to prove how automated drones and manned aviation can safely co-exist.
Consortium will demonstrate flight trials across a number of key use cases including medical deliveries and rapid response for the emergency services.
BT took a significant leap into the commercial drones market today, as the company announced the formation of a new consortium to deliver a series of industry use cases across the UK’s first commercial drone corridor. BT, together with DroneStream, Altitude Angel and a number of UK tech start-ups, have been selected by UK Research and Innovation to deliver “Project XCelerate” – a key Future Flight Challenge project  which will establish the UK’s first commercial drone corridor in open and unrestricted airspace, located south of Reading, Berkshire.
In summer 2021, the project will conduct flight trials along the 8km-long corridor to demonstrate how drones can operate safely in the same airspace as manned aviation. The consortium will demonstrate key industry use cases across healthcare, emergency services and infrastructure to illustrate how drone deliveries and inspection can bring countless benefits to businesses, the public sector and UK citizens.
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.”
“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.”
Harry Howe, CEO at DroneStream, said: “Connectivity is at the heart of what ensures the successful adoption of drone capabilities if the service is to scale. With project XCelerate we build on this by enabling drones to live stream information in real-time to control rooms, teams on the ground and other stakeholders while they analyse and act on it, a situation that can be described as true interoperability”.
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.
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, whilst also reducing costs.
The project will also demonstrate how automated drones can reduce the lead times for urgently needed medical deliveries, helping the healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors to improve standards of patient care. 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.
BT's strengths in reliable, secure, high bandwidth, low-latency radio and fixed connectivity mean it is ideally placed to lead the consortium. Its EE mobile network – the biggest and fastest in the UK, and the trusted provider behind the critical Emergency Services Network (ESN) - will ensure that a safe commercial drone corridor can be established with optimal mobile coverage at altitude. BT will provide the critical communications required for BVLOS (Beyond Visual Line of Sight) environments such as GPS location and remote identification, command and control, redundant geo-awareness, and live notifications (NOTAMs) sent directly to drones in-flight.
BT will combine its experience with Altitude Angel’s leading experience in Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) platforms, together with its operation of the Arrow Drone Zone commercial drone corridor. UTM is a key enabler to address the safe and efficient integration of unmanned vehicles into airspace. Project XCelerate will combine a network of existing and new technologies underpinned by Altitude Angel's proven UTM platform, incorporating existing air traffic management and communications systems and augmented by new technology, such as 5G.
Project XCelerate aims to widen the use of UTM systems by providing a framework which towns, cities, organisations and networks can follow in order to ‘open up’ portions of the sky. The project consortium is powerfully placed to realise the world's first live commercial automated BVLOS flight zone in which any compatible vehicle can connect into and fly within safely.
About the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund
The Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund aims to bring together the UK’s world leading research with business to meet the major industrial and societal challenges of our time. The fund was created to provide funding and support to UK businesses and researchers, part of the government’s £4.7 billion increase in research and development over the next 4 years. It was designed to ensure that research and innovation takes centre stage in the Government’s modern Industrial Strategy. It is run by UK Research and Innovation.