The UK Government has launched a £16 million national programme aimed at ensuring the safe operation of unmanned aviation vehicles (UAVs) in civil airspace.
The Department of Trade & Industry (DTI) led initiative forms part of the £32 million ASTRAEA (Autonomous Systems Technology Related Airborne Evaluation and Assessment) programme. ASTRAEA sets out to collectively strengthen the UK's pedigree in UAV technology.
Unmanned craft could revolutionise police and fire service surveillance, coastal surveillance, power and pipeline inspections and mobile phone and broadband services. In the future, semi-autonomous UAVs could undertake these tasks using sensors and object avoidance technology.
Secretary of State for Trade & Industry Alistair Darling said, “ASTRAEA is a significant programme for the UK in establishing our credentials in the rapidly growing field of UAV development. It will strengthen collaboration across industry, universities, and regulatory authorities, positioning the UK amongst the world's leaders in UAV technology.
“This programme is an example of how leading private sector businesses and universities can work with government to deliver projects, which will lead to developments offering real economic and cost-effective solutions in areas such as environmental monitoring and security.
“ASTRAEA also represents a good example of collaboration between DTI and the regional bodies supporting technology programmes which will provide knowledge transfer and employment opportunities in the regions.”
Industry members of the consortium are Agent Oriented Software, BAE Systems, EADS UK, Flight Refuelling, Qinetiq, Rolls-Royce and Thales UK. These are joined by the Universities of Bath, Cranfield, Lancaster, Leicester, Loughborough, Aberystwyth, West of England and Sheffield, and a number of specialist small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs).
In addition to receiving £5 million support from the DTI, ASTRAEA has also received £11 million funding from the Regional Development Agencies in the South West, South East and North West, and Devolved Administrations in Scotland and Wales, reinforcing the Government's commitment to supporting a world class research base across the UK.
Simon Jewell, Chairman of the Steering Board for the consortium, said, “This is an important milestone for ASTRAEA as it marks the transition from planning to implementation. The team has developed a vision for UAV operations in UK airspace that can now be realised through ASTRAEA and other follow-on activities. Success will open the way for the innovative deployment of UAVs and to a new era of aerospace."