Drone navigation experts to improve safety of low-altitude flight

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Today, six organisations have announced the creation of the iSHIMANO consortium which comprises Malloy Aeronautics, R4DAR Technologies, Cambridge Sensoriis, Makutu, The Satellite Applications Catapult, and Oxfordshire County Council. The consortium will develop a resilient and cost-effective navigation and situational awareness system to enable drones to operate safely in high risk, very low-altitude flight environments.

This collaboration is funded through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund’s Future Flight Challenge, delivered by UK Research and Innovation, which supports the development of innovative British flight technologies including freight carrying drones, urban air vehicles and hybrid-electric regional aircraft.

The project will demonstrate how localised navigational and situational awareness capabilities can improve not only navigation, but the ability to avoid mid-air collisions.  It will focus on the use of low-cost radar identification beacons to communicate directly with drones. The operational and location information gathered will then be fed into unmanned traffic management systems, to dynamically improve the information available on operations for all drones.

The ability to integrate localised geospatial data into both air traffic management and unmanned traffic management systems will ultimately be of use to a much wider audience in the navigation sector and for beyond visual line of sight drone operators. 

Paul Wright, Business Development and Operations Manager at Malloy Aeronautics said: “Membership of the iSHIMANO consortium represents an opportunity to contribute at the cutting edge of next generation navigation, tracking and management of autonomous systems. Malloy Aeronautics will contribute to the creation of this new technology to ensure that the requirements of autonomous unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) manufacturers and our customers are central in the minds of the iSHIMANO team during development. At the conclusion of the project, the consortium will have developed, tested, proved and demonstrated that non-satellite urban and extra-urban traffic management is real and is deliverable as a standalone capability, or packaged together with the UAV as a system of systems.”

Clem Robertson, CEO at R4DAR Technologies commented: “Early unequivocal detection and identification of obstacles and hazards is the single biggest challenge for current and future autonomous vehicles. Being able to immediately identify potential dangers in complex urban environments, regardless of lighting or weather conditions, will be fundamental to ensuring safety in the autonomous world. Our low-cost and low maintenance technology has the capability of providing the necessary geospatial awareness to enable autonomous air mobility systems to navigate safely, even in the most adverse environments.” 

Steve Clark, CEO at Cambridge Sensoriis Ltd commented: “Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), or drones, promise huge benefits for logistics, inspections, maintenance, emergency services and the wider economy. These drone services must however, be safe and reliable all year round, irrespective of the weather conditions, day or night.  In this project, we shall develop and prove low-cost radar sensing is a reality for safe navigation, to ensure resilient drone operations for both businesses and consumers.”

Steve D’Arcy, CEO at Makutu said:The Future of Flight project brings together a number of unique technologies that have widespread applications in the transport, military and security sectors. This is matched with a highly technical team with data, radar and autonomous flight experience who have an in-depth knowledge of their field. Makutu is supporting the project in a number of areas; primarily concerned with the collection and analysis of the data. Our project team of data architects, data engineers, data scientists and our cloud platform capability, means we are able to build an end-to-end analytics platform. We have a strong understanding of the technical and commercial value of the data and solution. Our agile and innovative team look forward to identifying further opportunities for the application of the technologies.”

Llewelyn Morgan, Head of Innovation at Oxfordshire County Council says: “Oxfordshire County Council is recognised as one of the leading local authorities actively engaged in collaborative innovation, to help deliver ambitions such as zero emissions, connected autonomous mobility and active travel.

Oxfordshire County Council will provide invaluable input on the need, the wider transport system requirements, and the exploitation of the iSHIMANO technology while supporting the demonstration and dissemination of the technology within their local authority infrastructure. This project will allow the council to understand the local policy and regulatory framework that is required to get the positive benefits that unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) will bring while understanding potential risks and mitigation strategies to ensure UAVs can be an integral part of the Oxfordshire transport system.

This project will be managed within the council’s Innovation service (IHUB), which has a strong record in supporting, managing and delivering innovative projects that test the boundaries of “normal” public sector approaches. Through the iSHIMANO collaboration, the county council continues to strive to deliver more collaborative solutions to core problems that authorities face, such as managing and making better use of the transport network.”

Paul Febvre, Chief Technology Officer at the Satellite Applications Catapult commented: “In future, drones will need to seamlessly operate in high-risk and high-clutter urban infrastructure and sparse rural environments. Multiple redundant systems providing positioning, communications and situation awareness services will therefore need to be integrated into future digital wireless infrastructure to ensure safe operations. The Satellite Applications Catapult will be working with the Consortium to prepare for the future integration of wide area satellite and terrestrial communications and positioning systems, to enable full operational situation awareness for future flight campaigns.”