A UK project is aiming to develop and test a remotely operated drone system for challenging industrial and urban environments.
The consortium, led by specialist drone command and control system developer, sees.ai, includes 16 organisations such as BAE Systems, the UK’s National Air Traffic Control Services (NATS) and nuclear operator Sellafield.
The Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) system will enable remote inspection and monitoring of industrial sites such as nuclear, construction and oil and gas, as well as urban sites in the public domain including road and 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 in West Sussex.
The system uses AI on Nvidia GPU processors to enable 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 problems, magnetic interference and degradation and loss of communications.
Operating safely in congested area is a major challenge, and it requires the consortium of aviation, aerospace, industrial and emergency service giants, to advance the system and integrate it into the wider aviation ecosystem.
“As a leading research institution in 5G and beyond, we will provide expertise on the design of end-to-end network architecture for the future operation of drones,” said Professor Reza Nejabati, an expert in high performance and autonomous networks from the University of Bristol’s Smart Internet Lab. “Our experts will evaluate a combination of multiple 3GPP (4G and 5G), non 3GPP (WiFi), MEC and network slicing technologies in multi-operator settings with private and public operators. We are very well placed to train the next generation of engineers with unique and cross disciplinary skills in integration of telecommunication with drone systems.”
The Smart Internet Lab is among the technical contributors to the consortium, alongside Vodafone, The Met Office, Flock Cover and UAM Consult Ltd.
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 the Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service.
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