“Autobahn” for drones: Great Britain is planning a 256-kilometer route

British companies are planning an air corridor in the “Project Skyway” that is only intended for drones – without problems with further aviation.

Largely autonomously flying drones of all kinds are to be on the planned “skyway”: from the smaller ones to those with wingspans of up to ten meters. (Image: Dmitry Kalinovsky/Shutterstock.com)

Numerous start-ups, government institutions, corporations, and large aviation companies are working to commercialize drone traffic. Cargo helicopters will soon be able to autonomously bring larger quantities of goods from A to B through the air without people having to intervene. Alone: ​​The previous pilot projects outside of military applications were rather small.

In Great Britain, it is now been demonstrated that drones can also travel over long distances without any problems. To this end, the company Altitude Angel, a provider of traffic management systems specifically for unmanned aerial vehicles, has founded a consortium that is planning a “Drone Superhighway” over a total length of 256 kilometers. This is a specially designated route between the cities of Reading, Oxford, Milton Keynes, Cambridge, Coventry, and Rugby. The “Skyway” is being built by Altitude Angel together with British Telecom (BT), several drone start-ups, and local communities.

So far, drones cannot normally be flown without a human pilot. This is exactly where the project that received approval from the British government in July comes in: The Skyway is to be controlled via mobile phone networks (4G and 5G) and a new control system that, among other things, has collision avoidance. They should be able to fly largely autonomously, although different classes with wingspans of up to ten meters should be traveling in parallel. Implementation is planned by 2024 and could also be extended to regions outside the Midlands. In addition to cargo drones, it would even be possible to send drone taxis onto the route.

The central element of the Skyway is the ability to network all drones along the route. The control and communication systems are to become part of a single corridor consisting solely of software. The position is not only monitored by the onboard systems, but also by significantly more powerful sensors on the ground. This network will monitor the skyway in real time and dynamically adjust air traffic control and routing.

“The skills we are developing and testing as part of Skyway have the potential to revolutionize the way we transport goods and travel in ways that have happened since the advent of the railroad in the 18th century,” says Richard Parker , CEO of Altitude Angel. For this to work, however, the dream of full autonomy must first be realized. “The social and economic potential of drones is immense and requires close industry collaboration to fully exploit these opportunities in a safe and responsible manner,” said Dave Pankhurst, Head of BT’s Drone Division.

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