The world-first SafeZone project wins its third round of Future Flight Challenge funding to transform the safety and commercial viability of urban drone flight.

The Future Flight Challenge is investing up to £125 million to develop greener ways to fly, such as all-electric aircraft and deliveries by drone, by advancing electric and autonomous flight technologies. The investment is matched by £175 million from industry.

SafeZone wins a share of almost £70 million for ambitious, real-world demonstrations for a new aviation system from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, delivered by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

Creating safe practices for the urban drone

Founding partners Zenotech and Flare Bright are joined by Cranfield University and Cardiff Airport on a mission to develop safer unmanned drones in urban spaces; a game-changer to increase efficiency, ease congestion, improve sustainability and develop emergency services’ capabilities.

Safety is critical with airports worldwide planning to significantly increase autonomous facilities inspections to improve cost-efficiency, a move accelerated by the impact of Covid-19. The SafeZone team will generate and use localised aerodynamic meteorological data to allow unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to adapt their route as they fly through wind changes and close to buildings for inspection purposes.

The partnership plans to use these results to enable the delivery of a new live data service to provide real-time information about aerodynamic hazards in urbanised environments.

SafeZone draws on Flare Bright’s expertise in machine learning digital twins for drones, which in this project has aided the design, build and flying of UAVs and the ground-breaking capabilities of their wind-measuring nano-drone. This tech is combined with Zenotech’s cutting-edge high-performance computing and flow simulation tools, capabilities and in-house expertise.

In the initial stages of the project, Zenotech and Flare Bright achieved a world-first series of validation flight trials airside at Cardiff International Airport. As a testament to these successful results, Cardiff Airport is now on-board as a project partner, providing facilities and operational support. Cranfield University also joins the project.

Phase 3 pushes the boundaries of wind measurement, and rather than a single column of accurate wind measurement to validate Zenotech’s CFD wind models, this will measure wind using multiple drones flying simultaneously to pick up even finer detail over wider areas than ever previously achieved by any organisation.

Gary Cutts, Future Flight Challenge Director, UKRI tells us, “Phase 3 of the Future Flight challenge is all about moving innovative technologies forwards, making them ready for real-world use cases. The UK has an excellent safety record when it comes to aviation and we’re determined to make sure these new autonomous technologies work as safely as possible. What the SafeZone project is doing is a critical part of that and I look forward to seeing them build on the excellent results from their initial project.”