A consortium led by Operational Solutions Limited (OSL) – the Reading-based drone technology business – has secured funding from the Future Flight Challenge at UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) to dramatically accelerate the commercial adoption of autonomous drones in high intensity environments in the United Kingdom.
Currently, drone flights must be controlled by a pilot that can see the drone with the naked eye. However, in the future, drones will be able to automatically select their mission and conduct their flight within approved rules but without direct human intervention or control. This project aims to deliver the first real world implementation of such a system in a congested environment that is representative of a city.
Project HADO® will create an overarching enterprise to enable autonomous drone operations in busy environments such as city centres and airports.
HADO® will create a scalable technical and regulatory enterprise that will dramatically accelerate the commercial roll out of autonomous unmanned aerial systems in high intensity environments across the UK. It has the potential to unlock more autonomous drone capabilities than ever before and will drive progress through a wide range of real-world use cases and applications.
The £13 million project led by OSL is one of the biggest in scale and ambition to secure partial funding from the Government’s Future Flight Challenge. It is expected to take 24 months, and will be delivered in collaboration with Heathrow Airport, Thales UK, Cranfield University, Dynamic Intelligence Solutions, Rinicom Intelligent Solutions, Carmenta, Herotech8, and UAVTek, and supported by the National Physical Laboratory, Ocuair, Nexus Nine, Cranfield Airport and Bird & Bird LLP as project subcontractors.
The final stage of the project will feature a four-month demonstration of autonomous drone operations at Heathrow.
Mark Legh-Smith, CEO at OSL, said: “Enabling autonomous beyond visual line of sight drone operations in intensely busy areas is key to unlocking drone-enabled economies and a future of smart airports and smart cities. We believe that HADO® is a unique project with potential to unlock significant commercial opportunities in the UK. We have drawn together an impressive consortium with the experience and expertise to achieve this ambitious goal and are excited to work with them to transform drone operations in this country.”
Gary Cutts, Future Flight Challenge Director at UKRI, said: “There are lots of challenges that need to be overcome for us to safely integrate autonomous drones into our existing airspace. The information Project HADO® gathers during its ambitious four-month trial, in the challenging environment of Heathrow, will be vital in helping the industry understand how we can resolve issues before we scale up further.”
Current regulations are restrictive and prevent the full potential and benefits of commercial drone operations from being realised in high-intensity airspace. Project HADO® aims to challenge this by deploying systems capable of operating multiple drones autonomously and simultaneously beyond visual line of sight. This will be achieved utilising a wide array of technology modules, from the use of synthetic environments, to integrated drone surveillance systems and unified ATM and UTM.
Using Heathrow Airport as a test and development ground, this 24-month programme aims to prove that multiple drones can be safely and autonomously operated BVLOS (beyond visual line of site) within one of the world’s highest intensity sites – navigating obstacles such as aircraft, wildlife, civilians, ground transportation, and other drones, unlocking potential for other ambitious projects such as Smart Cities and Urban Air Mobility.
Realising the wider impact of HADO®
Project HADO® seeks to accelerate the global acceptance of using drones for good. A negative and high-risk view of drones regularly leads to constrained piloted, line of sight operations which are inefficient and laborious. Project HADO® will demonstrate the ability to achieve more, safely using drones in an intense environment allowing future commercial offerings such as:
- Autonomous security patrols, inspections, and infrastructure surveys
- Bespoke same-day delivery services for consumer-packaged goods
- Support Advanced Air Mobility tools such as eVTOL (electric Vertical Take-Off and Landing) and passenger drones
Other expected benefits include increased productivity, provision of scalable opportunities, and operating cost reduction.
Project HADO® is made possible thanks to UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). OSL received £8 million of funding from BGF, the UK and Ireland’s most active growth capital investor, in December 2021.
About Operational Solutions Ltd:
Founded in 2010, OSL is dedicated to supplying and integrating innovative systems that can better secure, manage, and safeguard the airspace and land of critical infrastructure. Deploying tools that can offer comprehensive strategic intelligence in the face of threats from Uncrewed Aircraft Systems (UAS), and providing access to expertise on-demand, we’re on a mission to help aid defence and manage ongoing risks with the very latest insights available. https://operationalsolutions.co.uk
UKRI is the public body that distributes UK government funding for research and innovation across the UK, and works in partnership with universities, research organisations, businesses, charities, and government to create the best possible environment for research and innovation to flourish.
About Future Flight Challenge:
The Future Flight Challenge is investing up to £125 million to develop greener ways to fly, such as all-electric aircraft and deliveries by drone, by advancing electric and autonomous flight technologies. The investment is matched by £175 million from industry. This is the third phase of the challenge, in which a total of £73 million of grant funding has been awarded to 17 national projects.
BGF was set up in 2011 and has invested £3bn in more than 460 companies, making it the most active investor in the UK. BGF is a minority, non-controlling equity partner with a patient outlook on investments, based on shared long-term goals with the management teams it backs. BGF invests in growing businesses in the UK and Ireland through its network of 16 offices. www.bgf.co.uk / Social media: @BGFinvestments