Business News

Midlands flying high with drone technology trial

By Jessica Brookes

The West Midlands is one of just five regions selected to explore the future of drone technology – predicted to be worth billions of pounds. The West Midlands Combined

Authority spearheaded the submission for the region to be one of the first places in the country to design ways for drone technology to support local needs. Now the region is working

alongside Bradford, London, Preston and Southampton to look at how they could use drones in their communities. From using drones to support

public services as well as commercial opportunities, they’ll explore public attitudes, environmental impact, logistics and safety of drones operating in complex urban environments. The project, developed in

partnership with the government’s innovation and productivity initiative Innovate UK and Nesta, is called the Flying High Challenge. The project aims to conduct research into how unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) may be used in urban environments to combat local challenges.

The project is led by Transport for

West Midlands’ innovation team, headed by Lucy Gosling, who is now the West Midlands lead in the Flying High Challenge. She said: “We could imagine how

the Commonwealth Games and the City of Culture could use drones, together with the fantastic innovation and regeneration happening in the city and wider region right now.” Lucy and her team, including a

technical lead from Coventry University, have been concentrating on three specific uses for how drones could be used in the West Midlands. The key areas of interest for the

region include civil security and transportation of organs and tissues. The first use is already a reality for West Midlands Police and West Midlands Fire Service, who are ahead of the curve having used the technology since 2007. The third interest, chosen by

Nesta as a predominant use due to the region’s pioneering work in the

sector, investigates the use of drones as a means of intelligent transport. This technology could ease the region’s congestion issues by specifically using drones as ‘first response’ to traffic incidents. Lucy said: “Drones have a variety

of real world applications that can provide great benefits to the region, such as monitoring traffic pinch points and even crowds, like how it was used in the Blues v Aston Villa match in 2016. There also could be exciting synergies with drones and Connected and Autonomous Vehicles in the future.

‘West Midlands Police and West Midlands Fire Service are already ahead of the curve, having used the technology since 2007’

A 3D image created from video taken by a drone Tracking: Prof Bob Stone flying a drone “These prospects are quite

exciting for the region.” University of Birmingham are also

working on a number of projects that explore drone usage, that could be crucial for the private sector. The University’s Human Interface

Technologies team (HIT) has been researching real-world drone usage,

including how drones can help support defence and heritage projects and produce thermal and panoramic imaging systems for architectural surveys. Professor Bob Stone, director of

the HIT team at the University of Birmingham, has been involved in several projects on drones, including working with the West Midlands Regional Organised Crime Unit. Professor Stone is keen to

emphasise the importance of future- proofing for drone technology, and of fostering the relationship between businesses and universities in continuing to invest and conduct research into drone technology. He said: “Companies need to sit

down and think about what is best for their business and how their business can be advanced by using drones. Applications such as the use of high-quality thermal cameras for aerial energy and energy wastage surveys can be very expensive. “This is where businesses and

universities can work together, to experiment and research into these costly modifications and applications before investing sizeable sums into short-lived solutions.” The team will present their final

conclusions on drones shortly. May 2018 CHAMBERLINK 11

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