UK set to create world's longest drone superhighway

The UK government has given the go-ahead for the world's biggest automated drone superhighway, linking cities and towns throughout England.

Drop over crop field
Published: July 20th, 2022 at 3:59 pm

An ambitious new project to create a 164-mile automated drone superhighway has been given the green light by the UK government.

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Over the next two years, ‘Project Skyway’ will connect settlements in England – including Reading, Oxford, Milton Keynes, Cambridge, Coventry and Rugby ­– with the option to expand the corridor to other locations in the country.

The project is part of a £273m funding package for the aerospace sector, revealed Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng at the Farnborough International Airshow on Monday 18 July. The Skyway project will receive more than £12m of this package.

How will ‘Skyway’ work?

Most drones today require a human pilot. Skyway will allow manufacturers to connect their drones to a virtual superhighway system; a system that will guide drones safely through ‘corridors’ to desired destinations.

The technology relies on ground-based sensors that run the length of the highway, offering a real-time picture of where drones are in the airspace. This means the drones can be guided along the corridors safely, avoiding collisions.

Red drone carrying parcel
A delivery drone carries an urgent shipment box in Bangkok, Thailand/Credit: Getty

Benefits of the Skyway project

The Skyway superhighway network will help unlock the huge potential offered by unmanned aerial vehicles and greatly aid the transition to cleaner forms of flight.

“The social and economic potential of drones is immense and requires close industry collaboration to fully unlock these opportunities in a safe and responsible way,” said Dave Pankhurst, Director of Drones at BT (one of the partners involved in the collaboration).

“It’s an exciting time to be part of such a powerful consortium. Project Skyway will be crucial to showcase how the UK can not only lead the creation of new jobs and public services, but form the backbone of how we integrate drones into our daily lives."

Richard Parker, CEO and founder at Altitude Angel (another Skyline partner), added: “The capability we are deploying and proving through Skyway can revolutionise the way we transport goods and travel in a way not experienced since the advent of the railways did in the 18th century: the last ‘transport revolution’.

“Skyway gives us not just the opportunity to ‘level up’ access to green transportation across Britain, but we can benefit first and export it globally. We are therefore thrilled to be flying the flag on the global stage for UK Plc.”

Impact on rural areas

Stephen Farmer, head of corporate communications at Altitude Angel said:

“Whilst the route of the superhighway has not been finalised, we will utilise as much of the ground-based infrastructure, such as roads and masts, to minimise disruption to both humans and wildlife along the route.

Where the route does traverse countryside, we will be working with land owners and managers who are best placed to advise on the superhighway’s location to minimise any impact on wildlife. The benefit of operating drones on the environment is wholly positive, taking traffic off the roads and allowing goods to be transported by airframes powered by renewable energy.”


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Main image credit: Drone in flight/Credit: Getty

Authors

Daniel Graham of COuntryfile magazine on a hike with wet hair and blue coat and hills in background
Daniel GrahamSection editor, BBC Countryfile Magazine

Danny is the Section Editor of BBC Countryfile Magazine, responsible for commissioning, editing and writing articles that offer ideas and inspiration for exploring the UK countryside.

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