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Scale-up member helps accelerate UK’s capabilities in drone operations

Scale-up member,, is leading a consortium of sixteen partners that includes NATS, Vodafone, BAE Systems, Skanska, Sellafield, Met Police and Network Rail, which has won a share of £30m from the Future Flight Challenge, Phase 2 competition. This funding is part of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, delivered by UK Research and Innovation.

The futuristic system will enable remote inspection and monitoring of industrial sites eg nuclear, construction and oil & gas, urban sites in the public domain eg road & rail and telecoms infrastructure, and live emergency services support.

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 (designed on-the-fly) and close-quarter missions encountering GPS-denial, magnetic interference and degradation & loss of comms.

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 have joined forces to advance the system and integrate it into the wider aviation ecosystem.

SETsquared’s Scale-Up Programme was able to support the bid by providing a professional bid writer to craft the successful bid and also made the initial introduction to the University of Bristol.

Smart Internet Lab researchers at the University of Bristol will push the boundaries of telecommunication research and explore how end-to-end network architecture can be utilised to facilitate autonomous operation of future drones.

Professor Dimitra Simeonidou, Director of the Smart Internet Lab at the University of Bristol, said: “Our pioneering research in future telecommunications is now enabling us to drive digital transformation, using 5G technologies, on a number of sectors, (tourism, manufacturing, logistics, digital creative, utilities etc). We are delighted to contribute to this innovative project and shape the development of autonomous drones”.

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. We are enormously proud to be leading this consortium and to be working with such incredible partners to develop this advanced Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) aviation system. We see huge opportunity across industry and the public domain – and if we succeed, it would be a tremendous honour to support the emergency services.”

Steve Mayers, Head of Scale-Up at SETsquared said:

“This is what our Scale-Up Programme is all about – supporting innovative companies like to access funding which will accelerate their growth and development. By providing them with a professional bid writing resource and introducing them to specialist expertise at the University of Bristol, we’re incredibly proud to have played a part in helping them secure this pivotal funding.”

Find out how the SETsquared Scale-Up Programme could support your business to bid for R&D grants


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