Future Flight challenge announces phase three winners

Caucasian Male and Black Female Engineers Working on a Drone Project with Help of Laptop and Taking Notes.

From greener planes to airspace management and drone carried medical supplies 17 projects deliver an aviation revolution with regulation and testing at the core.

Accelerating the progress of new technologies, social insight, and advanced aviation solutions to deliver the third revolution in aviation.

The Future Flight challenge at UK Research and Innovation and delivered by Innovate UK, has today (18 July 2022) announced the 17 winning projects. They will share £73 million in funding to develop and show integrated aviation systems and new vehicle technologies.

Potential societal benefits

Working with the Civil Aviation Authority to ensure these technologies are rolled out appropriately, these projects show the potential societal benefits of these new technologies.

Projects include:

  • using planes powered hydrogen or electricity to open up greener regional connectivity at locations across the UK
  • Open Skies Cornwall, planning and building sky highways to connect NHS, Royal Mail, maritime and local authority assets to the people of Cornwall
  • supporting the NHS in Scotland with the CAELUS 2 project. The project aims to deliver solutions to real-life problems in care delivery by:
    • reducing the time it takes for a sample to get to a laboratory. This leads to quicker clinical decisions and treatment
    • allowing cancer patients to receive treatment in their local community rather than travelling long distances for chemotherapy
  • speeding up the surveying and safety of critical infrastructure for example powerlines and railway tracks.

Ensuring safety

But it’s not only the development of new air vehicles the challenge is supporting. The challenge is also funding a range of projects investigating air space management and safety.

For example, project SafeZone three is making drone flights safer by creating a data service that supplies real-time information about air hazards in urban environments.

Project High-intensity Autonomous Drone Operations (HADO) meanwhile will be evaluating a live 24-hour commercial autonomous beyond visual line of sight drone service in the high intensity airspace of Heathrow Airport.

By involving local authorities, public sector and regulatory bodies, the challenge is not shying away from the complexities involved in creating a new aviation system for the UK.

Transitioning to cleaner forms of flight

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said:

The return of the Farnborough International Airshow after a four-year absence is a clear example of the aerospace and aviation sector’s recovery.

Today’s package of support will add to this and help the sector take further steps to seize on the enormous opportunities for growth that exist as the world transitions to cleaner forms of flight.

Through funding for the latest in green technology, such as hydrogen aircraft networks and medicine delivery drones, we are once again placing the aerospace sector directly at the centre of our plans to deliver jobs and grow the economy.

Real-world demonstrations

Gary Cutts, Future Flight challenge Director said:

Over the past few years we’ve seen rapid developments in all aspects of the aviation system.

From cutting the length of time someone waits for medicine to arrive, to supplying greener ways to travel, these 17 projects will deliver real benefits to people across the UK. But there is still much to do.

By involving public bodies and regulators we aim to resolve these issues in an open and transparent way allowing real-world demonstrations by 2024.

Further information

Full list of funded projects

AgiLe Integrated Airspace System (ALIAS)

ALIAS brings together nine highly motivated technology companies to show a scalable and cohesive airspace system for the future.

This system will incorporate drones, air taxis and piloted aircraft working in unison to deliver economic and societal benefit for the UK and the Channel Islands.

Partners:

  • Volant Autonomy Limited
  • TEKTowr Ltd
  • Drone Defence Services Ltd
  • Skyports Deliveries Ltd
  • Ports of Jersey Ltd
  • Adjsoft Limited (DroneCloud)
  • Cambridge Sensoriis Ltd
  • Angoka Limited
  • Sky-Drones Technologies Ltd.

CAELUS 2

CAELUS-2 builds upon the work undertaken in its predecessor CAELUS and aims to show the operation of a network of multiple electric drones for the distribution of medical products and medicines across Scotland.

Partners:

  • AGS Airports Limited
  • NHS Scotland
  • NATS
  • University of Strathclyde
  • Connected Places Catapult
  • ANRA Technology
  • Atkins
  • Arup
  • Cellnex Telecom
  • Commonplace Digital
  • DGP Intelsius
  • Dronamics
  • Planefinder
  • Skyports Deliveries Ltd
  • The Drone Office
  • Trax International.

Skyway

The project will use drones powered by renewable energy sources on a 165-mile superhighway connecting the airspace above cities including:

  • Reading
  • Oxford
  • Milton Keynes
  • Cambridge
  • Coventry
  • Rugby.

The corridor will enable inspection times of infrastructure to be cut significantly and speed up parcel delivery times from hours to minutes.

Partners:

  • Altitude Angel
  • Connected Places Catapult
  • HeroTech8
  • BT Group Plc
  • ARPAS-UK Ltd
  • Reading Borough Council
  • Oxfordshire County Council
  • Coventry County Council
  • Angorka Limited
  • Vizgard Limited
  • Skyfarer Limited
  • Skyports Deliveries Ltd.

Air Mobility Ecosystem Consortium

The project places the UK at the forefront of advanced air mobility. It brings together the leading experts of UK aviation to develop and demonstrate end-to-end operations that will drive the development of a commercially viable AAM network in the UK.

This includes demonstration flights between a new Skyports vertiport and London Heathrow and Bristol airports using Vertical Aerospace’s VX4 eVTOL aircraft, operated by Virgin Atlantic.

Partners:

  • Atkins Limited
  • Vertical Aerospace Group Ltd
  • Skyports Infrastructure Ltd
  • Virgin Atlantic Airways Limited
  • Heathrow Airport
  • London City Airport
  • Bristol Airport
  • NATS
  • Cranfield University
  • The University of Warwick Manufacturing Group
  • Connected Places Catapult
  • with support from EVE air mobility.

Project HEART: phase three

Project HEART will revolutionise the operation of regional aircraft networks, initially targeting the nine to 19 passenger market, with innovations in:

  • fuel
  • propulsion
  • autonomy
  • connectivity and operational models
  • conducting flight trials with automated specialised operations aircraft powered by zero-carbon
  • hydrogen electric systems.

Project HEART will provide a holistic operational, infrastructure and technology model that is commercially viable, subsidy-free and environmentally friendly.

Partners:

  • Blue Bear Systems Research Ltd
  • ZeroAvia
  • Britten-Norman
  • Protium Green Solutions
  • Edinburgh Napier University
  • LoganAir
  • FOD Mobility
  • HIAL
  • Weston Williamson + Partners
  • ARQIT
  • RDM Group
  • Mott MacDonald
  • SAAB
  • GENEO.

InDePTH: Intelligent Drones for Ports and Highways Technology

The project will use drones to regularly survey wide infrastructure estates, including ports and highways, to create digital models and obtain detailed insight of these dynamic environments.

Partners:

  • British Telecommunications plc
  • Associated British Ports
  • RoboK
  • HEROTECH8
  • Connected Places Catapult
  • Kier Highways.

Morecambe Bay Medical Shuttle 2

The project will use drones to shuttle pathology samples between three hospitals in north-west England.

These solar powered drones will deliver better healthcare to the Morecambe Bay community by speeding up the processing times of samples and reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

Partners:

  • Digital and Future Technologies Limited
  • University Hospitals Morecambe Bay NHS Trust
  • Miralis Data Limited
  • Lancashire Teaching Hospitals.

Open Skies Cornwall

Open Skies Cornwall will test the next generation of drones, their infrastructure requirements and enabling technology to serve:

  • NHS
  • Royal Mail
  • users of Falmouth Harbour
  • Cornwall Council
  • international humanitarian medical logistics providers.

The project will implement the DronePrep Drone Delivery Register, which will help with planning and building sky highways to connect NHS, Royal Mail, Maritime and local authority assets to the people of Cornwall.

Partners:

  • DronePrep Ltd
  • Cornwall Development
  • Skyports Deliveries Ltd
  • Trust Port: Falmouth Harbour Commissioners
  • Royal Mail Group Limited
  • NHS Kernow Integrated Care Services
  • jHub-Med
  • University of Southampton
  • Neuron Innovations Ltd
  • TFC Inc. (doing business as The Flight Corp).

Sustainable Aviation Test Environment (SATE) 2

SATE is based at Highlands and Islands Airports Limited (HIAL)’s Kirkwall Airport in the Orkney Islands.

Phase one of the SATE project allowed HIAL, with support from partners, to create the UK’s first low-carbon aviation test centre running from a commercial airport. This phase of the project expands on the work of the original project to create a UK Centre for Excellence of Sustainable Aviation Systems.

This will enable SATE to host pre-commercial demonstrations of novel aviation technologies with proven use cases to commercialise clean innovation in a real-world environment. Use cases will include:

  • scheduled airline route
  • offshore energy services
  • NHS activities
  • island and remote region deliveries
  • environmental survey and inspection.

The use case demonstrations to be undertaken as part of the project will have a positive impact on island communities. They will improve quality of life, and address issues of social exclusion and access deprivation (including access to health services).

Within the SATE project and partner organisations, at least 45 new highly skilled jobs will be created. Many of the roles created will be based in remote communities around Scotland representing high-value roles.

Partners:

  • HIAL
  • The European Marine Energy Centre Ltd
  • Loganair
  • University of the Highlands and Islands
  • WindRacers
  • Flarebright
  • ZeroAvia
  • Arcadis Consulting (UK) Ltd
  • Connected Places Catapult
  • Highlands and Islands Transport Partnership
  • Orkney Islands Council
  • Highlands and Islands Enterprise.

Project BLUEPRINT

This project aims to provide regulators, technology providers and operators with a blueprint for a UK wide rollout of beyond visual line of sight drone operations.

Partners:

  • Neuron Innovations Ltd
  • Cranfield University
  • University of Southampton
  • Distributed Avionics Ltd
  • Future Aerial Innovations Ltd
  • AdjSoft Ltd
  • Cranfield Airport Operations Ltd
  • Anra Technologies UK Ltd
  • Sky-Drones Technologies Ltd
  • Ebeni Ltd.

Project HADO

The project will be evaluating a live 24-hour commercial autonomous beyond visual line of sight drone service in the high intensity airspace of Heathrow Airport.

Partners:

  • Operational Solutions Limited
  • Cranfield University
  • Carmenta Technologies Ltd
  • Dynamic Intelligence Solutions Ltd
  • Heathrow Airport Holdings Ltd
  • HeroTech8 Ltd
  • Operational Solutions Limited
  • Rinicom Intelligent Solutions Limited
  • Thales UK Ltd
  • UAVTEK Ltd
  • UAVTEK Production Ltd.

Atypical Airspace BVLOS Solution (AABS)

Sees.ai’s advanced drone system unlocks autonomous flight in industrial environments, at a national scale, for the first time. It will use one of the world’s most advanced solutions for unmanned flight and data capture at scale.

Sees.ai’s solution puts remote pilots in charge of connected and autonomous drones. The system is capable of remotely addressing even the most complex, close-quarter missions and can deliver safe and efficient operation of drone fleets at a national scale.

To help the UK accelerate towards the adoption of autonomy, sees.ai is deploying the technology in industrial environments first. This will include the UK electricity grid and rail network, showing that the technology is not only exceptional but safe in the eyes of the regulator too.

Partners:

  • sees.ai
  • Livelink Aerospace
  • BT
  • Imperial College London
  • National Grid
  • Network Rail
  • Keen.ai
  • Across Safety
  • Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service
  • Terradrone.

Project PORTAL: the infrastructure launchpad for the future of flight

The project will focus on developing a scalable, reconfigurable, and rapidly deployable automated vertiport capability. This technology will serve permanent vertiports, new bespoke vertiports and retro-fitted installations on car parks or roof tops as well as supporting temporary operations as a pop-up vertiport for events or disaster-relief.

The project will make it easy for any business to become a drone capable business.

Partners:

  • SLiNK-TECH LTD
  • ANGOKA Limited
  • R4DARTECH Ltd
  • Cambridge Sensoriis Ltd
  • Snowdonia Aerospace LLP
  • Auriga Aerospace Ltd
  • University of Bristol.

Project SeaWatch: flexible AI coastal monitoring

The project will see the fusion of leading-edge unmanned aircraft ‘drones’ and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies, paving the way for cheaper, more reliable and accessible improvements in safety at sea. In addition it allows exclusive economic zone coastal monitoring, especially in remote and difficult to access areas.

Partners:

  • Uavaid Limited
  • Archangel Imaging Ltd.

Protecting environments with unmanned aerial vehicle swarms

The project will demonstrate how the Windracers ULTRA and SWARM technology can be used to conduct environmental protection missions including gathering environmental data in Antarctica and the detection and location of wildfires. SWARM technology allows for extensive coverage and at reduced survey time and human resource.

For these operations to scale, the ULTRA platforms need to be operated in large numbers and in difficult environmental conditions. This raises several technological challenges, some of which are centred around:

  • navigation
  • situational awareness
  • resilience to failures
  • degraded performance states.

Partners:

  • Windracers Limited
  • Distributed Avionics Limited
  • Helix Geospace
  • Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service
  • National Environmental Research Council British Antarctic Survey
  • University of Bristol
  • The University of Sheffield.

SafeZone phase three

The project will investigate localised aerodynamic meteorological data to allow unmanned aerial vehicles to adapt their route as they fly through wind changes and close to buildings at Cardiff Airport.

It will also create a live data service providing real-time information about aero hazards in the urban landscape, making drone flight more commercially viable and safer.

Partners:

  • Zenotech
  • Flare Bright
  • Cardiff Airport
  • Cranfield University

Future Flight and Land Infrastructure Programme (FFLIP)

Without the right charging infrastructure in place, electric vertical take-off, and landing vehicles (eVTOLs) cannot become a possible form of transportation.

FFLIP will deliver a full-scale multi-modal demonstration at a site in Oxfordshire, including a 600 kilowatt eVTOL charger infrastructure with multiple power configurations to support 24-hour rapid charging of:

  • electric ground vehicles
  • trucks
  • drones
  • eVTOL aircraft.

Partners:

  • Petalite
  • Custom Interconnect Limited
  • Oxfordshire County Council
  • Midlands Aerospace Alliance
  • Vanti (trading name RTS Technology Solutions Limited)
  • ARC Aero Systems.

Top image:  Credit: gorodenkoff, iStock, Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

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