Telecom firm BT leads project testing the UK’s first drone corridor

British telecom operator BT is leading a consortium of businesses prepared to test the UK’s first commercial drone corridor. Dubbed Project XCelerate, the initiative is receiving government backing as part as the country’s push to boost drone-based business delivery, transport, and other services.

Trial run tests BVLOS and automated drone missions

The 8-kilometer-long (5-mile) corridor will begin trial operations this summer near Reading, to the west of London. Its objectives will not be limited to demonstrating drone abilities to safely carry out commercial missions in a bustling airspace. They’ll also seek to surmount challenges inherent to beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) flights, as well as those posed by fully automated drone use that many businesses will require.

BT’s role as an organizer of Project XCelerate reflects the centrality of its telecom network in the plan. One of the major obstacles to BVLOS flight is consistent, reliable access to communication networks connecting drones and remote pilots. The same availability of stable bandwidth and low latency communication assets is just as important to automated operation. BT’s 4G and 5G networks provide the wide, reliable, secure data flows enabling flight transmissions, as well as maximal situational awareness, accurate positioning, and collision avoidance information to drones.

Project XCelerate has been joined by a wide number of heavyweights in British drone and urban air mobility (UAM) activity. Among those are uncrewed traffic management software company Altitude Angel; enterprise drone service software providers Dronecloud and DroneStream; UAM infrastructure business Skyports; and drone public safety specialist SkyBound Rescuer.

Drone lane focus on rescue, medical, infrastructure services

Indeed, in addition to testing overall commercial drone use, Project XCelerate will particularly focus on ways dedicated corridors can speed up and improve performance by rescue services and emergency responders. It will similarly look to enhance time-sensitive transport of medical supplies, and urgent infrastructure inspection and repair work.

“As part of Project XCelerate, we’re proud to bring together world-leading drone expertise and our secure and resilient network connectivity to launch the UK’s first commercial drone zone and show how drones can deliver improved, life-saving services to the public, ” notes Dave Pankhurst, head of BT’s drone solutions unit.

The project is part of the Future Flight Challenge Fund conceived to accelerate and diversify the ways drone technologies are used by people, goods manufacturers, and service providers. Both are supported by the UK government’s Industrial Strategy, whose objectives aim in part to spur development of emerging technologies and business activities. Those, it is hoped, will stimulate wider economic growth and modernization, and create attractive, well-paying jobs.

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