Ready for take off: London to explore how drones can be rolled out across the capital

Rebecca Smith
Is it a bird, is it a plane? Drones could be next on the capital's skyline
Is it a bird, is it a plane? Drones could be next on the capital's skyline (Source: Getty)

London has been selected as one of five cities to explore in detail how drone technology could be utilised across the UK.

The challenge, run by innovation foundation Nesta's Challenge Prize Centre in partnership with government-backed Innovate UK, called on cities to apply for a chance to examine how drones could be used in their communities.

London, along with Preston, Bradford, Southampton and the West Midlands, will explore the public attitudes, environmental impact, logistics and safety of drones operating in complex urban environments. The cities will bring together local citizens, public services, businesses and regulators to look at how drones can work "for the common good".

Read more: Airports call for European safety rulebook on drones as "matter of urgency"

The capital has the busiest and most heavily regulated airspace in the UK, so its participation in the challenge will allow the city to look seriously at how and where drones could be used safely.

London has already seen the initial use of drones for safer infrastructure inspections and helping the capital's emergency services, and Nesta said it now needs to identify what steps are needed to ensure drones help benefit London.

Michael Hurwitz, Transport for London's director of transport innovation, said:

Being part of Nesta’s Flying High Challenge will allow us to initiate a responsible, safety-first and collaborative approach to investigating the future of drones in London.

We want to understand the risks, concerns and opportunities of this rapidly evolving area, and to identify what steps are needed to ensure the use of drones benefits the city and supports our ‘Healthy Streets’ approach for London’s future.

Over a third of the UK's cities bid for place on the challenge, with programme lead Nishita Dewan, saying the entries showed "the huge appetite" to develop models for drones that work for communities.

She said: "We saw diverse and creative uses for drones such as boosting Wi-Fi and helping find lost children at the seaside, to the support for key public services such as delivering AEDs and inspecting critical infrastructure."

Aviation minister Baroness Sugg announced back in November that new rules are set to be introduced to regulate drones, with those flying them having to pass safety tests.

She said today that the programme will enable cities "to play a direct role in shaping how drones can be used to transform their public services and unlock business opportunities across the UK predicted to be worth billions".

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

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