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Five cities to run projects on drones in public services


Nesta announces choices in Flying High Challenge to use the technology in dealing with urban issues

Bradford, London, Preston, Southampton and the West Midlands have been picked as the five city regions to run projects on the use of drones in public services.

Innovation foundation Nesta has named them as the choices in its Flying High Challenge, which it is running with national innovation agency Innovate UK, and is aimed at showing how drones could deal with urban issues and help to make the UK a global leader in the field.

The five cities will run projects over the next five months to explore the public attitudes, environmental impact, logistics and safety of drones operating in complex urban environments.

Nesta said that each of them has credentials in areas from aerospace to robotics and autonomous vehicles, and some have unique approaches to public engagement and local economic development.

Bradford has a varied landscape where densely populated areas adjoin large open spaces, and sees the potential for drones to help meet priorities such as job growth in the tech community, improved environmental management, better quality housing, energy efficiency and safe communities.

London has the busiest and most heavily regulated airspace in the UK, and the Nesta challenge will support conversations about if and how drones could be safely used in the city in the future. There has been some initial use in infrastructure inspections and assisting emergency services.

Civic Drone Centre

Preston has been active in looking at the potential since 2014, when the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) set up the Civic Drone Centre to bring together local authorities, communities and businesses to look at new solutions. Drones have already been used in building inspections, to support fire and rescue services and assist the Environment Agency. The city and UCLan are planning to look at areas including flood management, assisting police helicopters and upgrading road networks.

Southampton City Council has laid out a vision to accelerate the safe delivery of public services and commercial activity using drone systems, notably around the safety of its port, blue light services and offshore logistics. The council is working with the University of Southampton, which leads the CASCADE project on the use of drones in civil airspace. It is also working in the field with the Royal National Lifeboat Institute, and within the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council’s Future Cities project.

The West Midlands group is interested in use cases surrounding UK City of Culture 2021 and Commonwealth Games events.

Image from GOV.UK, Open Government Licence v3.0

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