UK cities challenged to identify urban applications of drones

In a bid to make the UK a world leader in drone technology, a new government-funded challenge is asking cities to come up with ideas for how drones might be usefully deployed in urban areas.

urban applications of drones
A drone, demonstrating the carrying of medical supplies, arrives at King’s College Hospital London. Picture: David Parry/PA Wire

Run by Nesta in partnership with Innovate UK and funded through the government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund the so-called Flying High Challenge will work with up to five cities (through an open call selection process) to explore how drones could be usefully applied in urban areas.

Cities interested in taking part in the initiative are being encouraged to keep an open mind on applications. But according to a statement from Nesta, potential applications could include the use of drones to transport urgent medical supplies, carry out traffic monitoring, or monitor and maintain critical infrastructure.

The selected cities, together with regulators, businesses and the industry, will look at issues ranging from regulation and ethics to safety and public opinion.

Tris Dyson, executive director of Nesta’s Challenge Prize Centre, said that the aim of the initiative is to position the UK as a global leader in shaping drone systems: “By finding uses for the technology – beyond toys for hobbyists or used in conflict – the UK can establish itself as a world leader in drones,” he said.

urban applications of drones
The Flying High Challenge invites cities to design how drone technology could be used to support their local needs. Picture: David Parry/PA Wire

The initiative comes at a time when there are growing concerns over the antisocial use of drones and its launch coincides with the government’s announcement that it plans to more carefully regulate the use of the technology.

Aviation Minister Baroness Sugg said: “Drones have great potential and we want to do everything possible to harness the benefits of this technology as it develops. But if we are to realise the full potential of this incredibly exciting technology, we have to take steps to stop illegal use of these devices and address safety and privacy concerns.”

Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) or similar local government entities can register their interest in taking part at