By Chris Stonor
Today, the UK Government announced “the first wave of winners” receiving a part of a UKP33.5 million bounty of government funding for ground-breaking aviation projects solving major global challenges including a share going to “The Drones for Good” industry, reports a Government press release.
This area covers drones and aviation technologies to solve major global challenges like the Covid-19 pandemic and climate change as well as assisting to create hundreds of new jobs across the UK. This new investment was announced today by Business Minister, Nadhim Zahawi.
Initially, 20 winning ideas will receive a share of UKP7.35 million funding ranging from the development of drones “capable of delivering Covid-19 medical supplies to remote areas, to technology to enable remote inspections of infrastructure and construction sites, removing the need for workers to potentially be put at risk.”
In total, 34 projects are set to receive a part of UKP30 million, while an additional 14 projects, focused specifically on coronavirus response, will receive a share of a further UKP3.5 million. Investment arises from the Future Flight Challenge, which aims to increase mobility, reduce reliance on road travel thereby improving road congestion, and increase UK manufacturing opportunities.
Nadhim Zahawi, said, “As the UK leads the way in the aviation revolution, these bold proposals showcase the pioneering spirit of the UK’s aerospace and aviation industries in solving global issues, and those facing us here in the UK.”
He continued, ”Today, we have announced over UKP7 million of funding for projects across the country which demonstrate how using the latest and most cutting-edge aviation technologies can step up our response to the coronavirus pandemic, help us build back better and cement our well-earned reputation for research and development excellence, while creating hundreds of new jobs.”
Advances in alternative, green energy sources to power aircraft, including hydrogen and electricity, are also a key feature of some of the winning proposals. Transport Minister Rachel Maclean commented, “The UK is already a world-leader when it comes to innovation in aviation and this funding will allow us to carry on supporting the extraordinary work taking place right across the country.
“Innovation delivers real change and our support for dynamic ideas in this exciting sector means we are now seeing real life solutions, like the drone delivery of COVID-19 medical supplies, for challenges such as public health and climate change.” Adding, “Today the first wave of 20 winners have been announced, with more projects to be announced in the coming weeks.”
Of these, 9 projects are focussed on developing technology to aid the response to the coronavirus pandemic. This includes the development of unmanned drones to deliver medication, reducing human contact and, consequently, transmission of the virus. These projects include:
: Cornish Drone Airbridge (Cornwall/Isles of Scilly): Using drones, this project will develop technology capable of delivering PPE and COVID-19 testing kits to vulnerable rural communities in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.
: MediDrone (London): MediDrone’s project will develop a network of small drones following paths between medical facilities, acting as high-speed shuttles for small medical packages. This will improve the delivery speed of critical medication, and limit human contact with supplies to reduce the risk of transmitting COVID-19 to vulnerable patients.
: Droneprep Ltd, Consortiq Limited and Windracers Limited: Based in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, will use unmanned aerial vehicles to deliver critical PPE and Covid-19 testing kits to vulnerable, rural communities in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.
: APIAN Limited: Based in Essex, is creating and building a drone to deliver medical supplies like COVID-19 blood and swab tests between NHS hospitals and labs in response to the pandemic, protecting key NHS staff and the wider public from coronavirus transmission.
More general projects include:
: Dock-to-Dock: Based in Cardiff, which is developing a pilot project to deliver goods between Bristol and Cardiff using a hydrogen-powered electric aircraft.
: Remote industrial inspection by drone (Chichester): As the pandemic has meant many have had to spend time off work due to illness or work from home, this project aims to enable remote inspection and monitoring of industrial sites by drone. By reducing workers’ exposure to the virus, this will help increase worker productivity and safety, thereby reducing project cost and risk.
: NAPKIN: Based in Greater London, which focuses on paving the way for low and zero carbon short-haul flights for passengers around the UK.
: The Light Aircraft Company Ltd: Located in Norfolk, will integrate electric propulsion into existing aircraft to enable electric flight of small aircraft.
: Windracers Distributed Avionics: Based in Southampton and Bristol, will develop swarming technology, an approach to coordinate multiple robots, to allow multiple drones to fly in close formations and work together to provide humanitarian aid or fight fires.
: BVLOS Drone Comms for COVID-19 (Hertford): This project will help improve contact between drones and their control rooms when flying outside the operator’s line of sight. The creation of such technology would help realise the use of drones to deliver medical supplies to patients and collect medical samples.
Today’s announcement is part of wider support for the aviation and aerospace industries. The Government press release explains, “The UK has a world-leading aerospace sector generating well-paid jobs and suitable growth across the country, and the government is continuing to support the industry – and their aviation customers – with over UKP9.5 billion in R&D grants, loans and guarantees, and support for exports and exporters.”
The investment is part of the government’s commitment to help advance the UK’s future transport system through its extensive R&D Roadmap and to increase R&D public spending to UKP22 billion per year by 2024/25.
Over the next few years, The FFC will distribute UKP125 million from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF). The FFC aims to accelerate the UK’s position as a world leader in revolutionising how people, goods and services fly.
The release goes on to say, “It focuses on the development and demonstration of a novel integrated aviation system that enables the safe operation of new classes of air vehicles. These include air taxis, drones and regional aircraft using electric or autonomous technologies. The Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund aims to bring together researchers and businesses to tackle the big societal and industrial challenges of today.”
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