Berkshire: UK drone superhighway due to complete by 2024

    WORLD  28 November 2023 - 20:53

    Imagine a corridor in the sky that stretches between Reading and Coventry.

    You cannot see it but some of it is there already - a 6.2-mile (10km) wide route for pilotless drones, according to BBC.

    It relies on a line of beacons on the ground, which communicate with the drones to make sure they are kept apart.

    Testing is under way, with around one third of the beacons already in place and the rest due to be built by May 2024.

    Near Green Park, in Reading, Berkshire, a large drone with a wingspan of more than 3ft (1m) flies a planned route by itself, without a pilot but watched by a ground crew.

    It has enough battery power for an hour and a half in the air.

    Drone and beacon

    "Initially it will be medical deliveries," explains Stephen Farmer from Altitude Angel, the Reading company developing the corridor.

    "We've seen already, through testing, that we can get samples to pathology labs far quicker than we could by road."

    The drones will stay below 328ft (100m) altitude, out of the way of larger aircraft.

    Drone

    In the centre of the town is an air traffic control centre for drones. From a console, any drones in the corridor can be monitored. If the flight paths conflict, the drones can be automatically instructed to alter course.

    Altitude Angel was founded in 2014 by chief executive Richard Parker and now has 50 employees. In 2024, his concept will become a reality.

    He told the BBC: "The purpose of this 'skyway' is to put very clever sensors on the ground.

    "They stare up into the sky. They look for aircraft, as well as other drones. We take that information into our control centre and process where the aircraft are heading. We can then pass instructions to the drones to avoid collisions, keeping everything safe. Every element of this is being extensively tested."

    Drone control centre in Reading

    In California, Amazon is experimenting with delivering parcels by drone to people's homes and it hopes to bring the idea to the UK.

    It is technically more complicated than the fixed corridor being developed from Reading, with a range of four miles from a base station, and will take longer to become reality.

    Whereas the route linking Reading and the Midlands will take off next summer, with more corridors expected to follow.

    The project also aims to connect the airspace above Oxford, Milton Keynes, Cambridge, Coventry and Rugby by mid-2024.

    Most of the funding has come from a government grant but BT is also investing and there is potential to mount beacons on existing mobile phone masts.

    It is easy to appreciate how this technology could help remote rural communities, delivering medicines and, perhaps, letters and small parcels.

    But in Reading, the density of population and businesses make it much more likely to be commercially viable.

    Caliber.Az

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