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The University of Southampton

Southampton one of five UK cities bringing drones to the UK

Published: 7 February 2018
Drone in flight
Southampton developed the world’s first rapid prototyped unmanned aircraft under 20 kg MTOM

Southampton will be one of the first places in the UK to design how drone technology could be used to support local needs after winning a bid for a place on the Flying High Challenge run by the UK-based innovation foundation Nesta.

Southampton City Council made the successful bid in collaboration with the University of Southampton which has very strong drone and autonomous systems expertise as the leader of a large consortium project, CASCADE, looking at implementation of drones in civil airspace.

Southampton – the city and university - was chosen for this unique project as it boasts credentials in areas from aerospace to robotics and autonomous vehicles, and for its approach to public engagement and local economic development, making the city exceptionally well placed to deliver on both the technical and societal aspects of the programme.

Going forward, Southampton will work with the Flying High team alongside the four other Flying High Challenge areas in the UK – London, Bradford, Preston and the West Midlands - to look at how drones could be used in their communities. Topics to be explored include the attitudes, environmental impact, logistics and safety of drones operating in complex urban environments - from using drones to support public services to the commercial opportunities they might bring.

“I am delighted with the successful “Flying High Challenge” application by Southampton City council,” said Jim Scanlan , Professor of Aerospace Design at the University of Southampton. “A huge part of our drone research at the university involves the next generation of platforms which we want to fly in urban areas, close to people and infrastructure. The Southampton bid will bring together a strong partnership of users (who have applications such as pollution and traffic monitoring) with researchers and regulators to genuinely move the UK forward.”

Cllr Jacqui Rayment, Cabinet Member for Environment & Transport, added "This is an exciting project that puts Southampton at the forefront of research into how drone technology could work in every day life. We won't suddenly see an increase in drone traffic however. The project is about exploring how drone technology could be introduced safely and for the benefit of all and it will be a chance for us to engage with residents to understand their views. This will put as at the front of the queue to benefit as the use of drones becomes more commonplace in the future."

The CASCADE project (Complex Autonomous Systems Configuration Analysis and Design Exploratory) is supported by a programme grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. The project brings together five world-leading UAV and Aerial Robotics groups from the Universities of Southampton, Imperial, Cranfield, Manchester and Bristol to focus on delivering a step change in the civil use of aerial robotics or drones. CASCADE will deliver the research to underpin these advances, tackling the fundamental roadblocks, technical and regulatory, that limit routine use of aerial robots in science and civil applications.

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