Sunday, 07 March 2021

Aviation, aerospace, and telco players unite for drone project

posted by sees.ai
Monday 18 January 21

Vodafone is among a consortium exploring drones for use in industrial and urban environments

A consortium of 16 entities led by sees.ai, a specialist drone command & control solution developer, including aviation, aerospace and technology communications companies Vodafone, BAE Systems and NATS has won a share of £30 million to develop and test a remotely operated drone system for industrial and urban environments. The futuristic system will be used to fly highly automated drones, with operators monitoring flights based in a central control room hundreds of miles away. This will ultimately enable remote inspection and monitoring of industrial sites e…

A consortium of 16 entities led by sees.ai, a specialist drone command & control solution developer, including aviation, aerospace and technology communications companies Vodafone, BAE Systems and NATS has won a share of £30 million to develop and test a remotely operated drone system for industrial and urban environments.

The futuristic system will be used to fly highly automated drones, with operators monitoring flights based in a central control room hundreds of miles away. This will ultimately enable remote inspection and monitoring of industrial sites e.g. nuclear, construction and oil & gas, urban sites in the public domain e.g. road & rail and telecoms infrastructure, and live emergency services support.

“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," said John McKenna, CEO of sees.ai said. "We are enormously proud to be leading this consortium and to be working with such incredible partners like Vodafone and the Bristol University Smart Internet Lab to develop this advanced Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) aviation system. We see huge opportunity across industry and the public domain, and supporting the emergency services too.”

Mobile technology can be used to identify and track the location of a drone in real time, using Vodafone’s Radio Positioning Service integrated into the sees.ai enterprise command and control solution. It will complement existing satellite-based GPS location systems, which provide accurate location estimates but can be open to jamming. Mobile connectivity on a drone would provide a secondary feed of location-based information, enabling a more robust and trusted picture of the drone’s location.

Congested area operations are very challenging, but the potential reward for unlocking these types of mission in terms of public health & safety, cost efficiency and environmental impact is huge. No single entity could make this happen alone, so this consortium of aviation, aerospace, industrial and emergency service giants, together with www.sees.ai has joined forces to advance the system and integrate it into the wider aviation ecosystem.

The funding comes from the Future Flight Challenge, Phase 2 competition, part of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, delivered by UK Research and Innovation.

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

The project involves the system being put through a series of tests, increasing in complexity and challenge, with end-client organisations: Skanska; Skanska Costain STRABAG working in partnership with HS2; Sellafield; Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service; Vodafone; Network Rail; and 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.


Anne Sheehan, Business Director, Vodafone UK said:

“For drones to deliver on their huge potential in business, we have to reduce the reliance on people - we have to enable safe and managed flights without the dependence on the traditional piloted approach. With our technology, we can play a crucial role in that and we're looking forward to working with our partners to develop this vital capability.”

Vodafone has been interested in using mobile connectivity to help pilot drones for some time now. Back in January 2020 a Vodafone study showed that 86% of British people would support drone use by the emergency services, provided regulations were better defined. By November, the operator had partnered with Ericsson to begin to use mobile networks to map drone flight paths.


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