Back in 2017 the FAA’s drone integration pilot program was announced, paving the way for a number of interesting and innovative explorations of drone technology.
The UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has this week launched a similar program, although the scale and practical outcomes are still unclear.
The CAA says its new ‘Innovation Sandbox’ is a “virtual space in which new technology can be safely tested” that offers “innovative companies the chance to discuss, explore, trial and test emerging concepts.”
The main thing to note is the ‘virtual’ aspect of the program, which suggests that progress will be based on simulations rather than in the field testing as with its US equivalent.
That shouldn’t be an issue for the participants whose focus is on airspace integration solutions, such as Altitude Angel. Participants whose focus is on physical operations such as delivery and transportation will also be able to trial systems within that environment.
The CAA has proven to be flexible and forward thinking in the past with real-world tests such as UTM trial Operation Zenith. There’s also a reason that Amazon has moved its drone delivery R&D to the UK.
Read more: Why Doesn’t Amazon Deliver my Stuff via Drone? An Interview with Colin Snow on Drone Delivery
CAA launches Innovation Sandbox with six participants
The six participants and their projects are:
- Altitude Angel – a company delivering solutions which enable the safe integration and use of highly automated drones into airspace. Through its airspace management platform, GuardianUTM O/S, it delivers software foundations for safely unlocking the potential of drones.
- Amazon – a future delivery system from Amazon designed to safely get packages to customers in 30 minutes or less using unmanned aerial vehicles.
- NATS and Searidge Technologies – air traffic control body NATS and its digital tower partner, Searidge Technologies, are working to implement new technology such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and digital air traffic control towers.
- NBEC Consortium* – Cranfield University and its partners, Blue Bear Systems Research, Thales and Vodafone are creating an experimentation corridor that will enable drones and unmanned aircraft fly beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) by having their locations tracked and thus safely fly in the same airspace as manned aircraft.
- Nesta Challenges – the Flying High Challenge, part of Nesta Challenges, is a collaborative engagement with cities, technologists, researchers, regulators, government, public services and the public to shape the future of urban drone use in the UK.
- Volocopter – a company developing electrically powered urban air taxis (#eVTOLs) – based on drone technology – to help modern cities solve their increasing mobility issues.
The CAA’s innovation team will work closely with the participants to help them understand how they can meet regulatory requirements.
Tim Johnson, Director at the UK Civil Aviation Authority, said:
“The UK is a global leader for aviation innovation and we are excited to be playing our role to support this. Public safety remains our number one priority, and our Innovation Sandbox will allow for the creation of world-first technologies, tried and tested in a safe environment.”
Emma Simpson, Head of the UK Civil Aviation Authority’s new Innovation Team, added “We are working to enable innovative ideas and continue to collaborate with the international community, working with industry, for the public.
These first six participants in our Innovation Sandbox are bringing exciting opportunities for the UK to benefit from in years to come.”
Amazon and Volocopter join CAA Innovation Sandbox
Among the biggest names that will be taking part in the CAA’s new program are DJI’s European aerospace data partner Altitude Angel, Intel-backed German transport drone startup Volocopter and online retail giant Amazon.
Florian Reuter, Chief Executive at Volocopter, said “The UK Civil Aviation Authority Innovation Sandbox provides the necessary fertile ground to work with all stakeholders towards making London a city showcase for new forms of mobility.
“We are excited to embark on this learning journey together on how to enrich the mobility mix with our electrically powered Volocopter air taxis.”