and partners win £30m to develop advanced drone system


A consortium of 16 companies led by specialist drone command and control solution developer,, has won a share of £30m to develop and test a remotely operated drone system for industrial and urban environments.

The system will enable remote inspection and monitoring of industrial sites such as nuclear, construction and oil and gas, as well as urban sites in the public domain.

The system, which uses similar technology to autonomous cars, enables highly automated drones to be flown under tight human supervision by pilots based in a central control room hundreds of miles away. Pilots can precisely execute complex missions remotely – even reactive missions and close-quarter missions encountering GPS-denial, magnetic interference and loss of communications.

The funding comes from the Future Flight Challenge, Phase 2 competition, part of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, delivered by UK Research and Innovation. Innovate UK is investing up to £30m in innovation projects as part of Phase 2 of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) Future Flight Challenge. The Future Flight Challenge is a four-year, £125m ISCF programme.

John McKenna, CEO of said: “The Future Flight Challenge funding will accelerate us towards a future where drones fly autonomously at scale – high up alongside manned aviation and low down inside our industrial sites, suburbs and cities.”

Technical contributors to the consortium are: NATS, Vodafone, BAE Systems, The Met Office, Flock Cover, UAM Consult Ltd and University of Bristol Smart Internet Lab.

The system will be put through a series of tests with end users construction company Skanska, Skanska Costain STRABAG working in partnership with HS2; nuclear facility Sellafield; Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service; Vodafone; Network Rail; and design and engineering consultancy Atkins. During these tests the system will be operated by two of the world’s leading drone service providers, Terra Drone and Sky-Futures or by the in-house drone teams at Sellafield, Network Rail, and Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service.

Allan Wake, technical manager, New Concepts for BAE Systems said: “We’ve been impressed by the innovative technologies are developing to push the boundaries of autonomous flight. The ability to conduct Beyond Visual Line of Sight [BVLOS] flights will be a game changer for many industries, including defence.”