Socialising the drone
British cities are keen to leverage drones to perform things more quickly or more safely than people can. They are also motivated to support local R&D of drone-enabling technology to power regional and national industrial strengths, according to a report from UK innovation foundation Nesta.
The report comes six months after the launch of the Nesta-backed Nesta's Flying High programme which aims to identify the opportunities and challenges to implementing drone technology. Flying High comprises five UK city-regions (Bradford, London, Preston, Southampton and the West Midlands), along with stakeholders from central government, tech experts, industry leaders, academics and regulators, and is looking to help shape drone systems that place people's needs first.
Nesta says there is considerable appetite for the use of drones in these five cities, and for public service applications in particular. It has picked out five socially beneficial use cases in order to explore their technical, social and economic aspects:
• Medical delivery in London.
• Traffic incident response in the West Midlands.
• Southampton-Isle of Wight medical delivery.
• Construction and regeneration in Preston.
• Supporting fire and rescue services in Bradford
And there are issues here.
“Most of these use cases utilise the capability of drones to cover a lot of ground rapidly and with a degree of automation,” says the report. “That means having drones fly beyond the visual line of sight of an operator. Doing so safely at scale in a busy environment is still a major technical and regulatory challenge
Nesta emphasises that this is still very much a work in progress.
“Prior to the Flying High project beginning, there was surprisingly little coordination between key players, and cities were largely absent from the discussion,” it says. “We need to keep up the momentum and we urgently need to bring the public into discussions about the future of drones.”
A recent PwC study found that cost reductions from drone usage may lead to 3.2% uplift in productivity across the economy, and contribute to large GDP spikes in many sectors.