UK cities challenged to design drone uses of the future from emergency health services to parcel deliveries

 
Rebecca Smith
Drones could be used to transport urgent medical supplies
Drones could be used to transport urgent medical supplies (Source: David Parry/PA Wire)

Cities across the UK have been invited to compete in thinking up innovative uses for drone technology, from flood search and rescue to inspection of attractions like the Blackpool Tower.

The Flying High Challenge is being run by Nesta in partnership with Innovate UK to ascertain how drone technology can develop to meet the needs of urban life.

Read more: How to train your drone: Government promises new safety rules

The challenge will work with up to five urban areas through an open call selection process to explore how drone technology could operate locally, in a busy city environment. The selected cities, along with regulators, businesses and the industry, will look at issues ranging from regulation and ethics to safety.

Potential drone uses to be explored
  • Emergency health services like rapid organ or blood transport
  • Risk assessment and maintenance of bridges and critical infrastructure
  • Working in extreme and hazardous environments such as fires and floods
  • Search and rescue assistance for police and emergency services
  • Traffic monitoring
  • Environmental and pollution monitoring
  • Logistics and delivery

Tris Dyson, executive director of Nesta’s Challenge Prize Centre, said: “If we are going to have drones in our towns and cities they must be fit for our society. By finding uses for the technology - beyond toys for hobbyists or used in conflict - the UK can establish itself as a world leader in drones."

The Department for Transport announced funding for the project as it outlined plans for new legislation yesterday to try and ensure drone users operate safely and legally. New rules will be introduced to regulate drones, with those flying them having to pass safety tests.

Aviation minister Baroness Sugg said:

Drones have great potential and we want to do everything possible to harness the benefits of this technology as it develops. But if we are to realise the full potential of this incredibly exciting technology, we have to take steps to stop illegal use of these devices and address safety and privacy concerns.

These new laws strike a balance, to allow the vast majority of drone users to continue flying safely and responsibly, while also paving the way for drone technology to revolutionise businesses and public services.

By 2025, these technologies are expected to have an impact on global markets of up to $13.1 trillion a year.

Read more: Here's why mass parcel drone deliveries aren't likely to take off in London

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