The UK wants to host a "drone superhighway"

The DJI Mavic 2 Pro drone in flight
(Image credit: Future)

The UK government has just announced the construction of the world's longest and largest drone "superhighway" in what could be a major shake-up for logistics and delivery workers everywhere.

The 164-mile superhighway, dubbed "Skyway", will aim to connect towns such as Reading, Oxford, Milton Keynes, Cambridge, Coventry and Rugby, and is set to be completed within the next two years.

The project will be led by Reading-based tech firm UTM (Unified Traffic Management) and software vendor Altitude Angel, alongside BT, EE, and "a number of UK tech start-ups". 

How will it work?

The consortium behind the project said that though drones currently "cannot be flown without a human pilot, except in rare circumstances" the new highway will remove this obstacle "by enabling any drone manufacturer to connect a drone’s guidance and communication systems to a virtual superhighway system which takes care of guiding drones safely through ‘corridors’, onward to their destinations, using only a software integration".

The consortium said this innovation is possible because Skyway doesn’t rely on drones carrying specific onboard sensors to ‘see’ other aerial traffic, but instead proposes to put "higher-power, better sensors" from multiple manufacturers on the ground, along a sensor network, which in turn is then processed in real-time to provide guidance.

This apparently means that drones using the highway don’t need to compromise payload, range or efficiency and can ‘tap into’ even higher resolution data, from multiple sensors, from the ground-based network.

The superhighway announcement came as part of a £273m government funding package for the UK’s aerospace sector, earmarked for investment in all types of technology, including solar-powered aircraft, flying taxis, and drones delivering medical supplies.

The package was announced by Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng at the Farnborough International Airshow.

 “The social and economic potential of drones is immense and requires close industry collaboration to fully unlock these opportunities in a safe and responsible way," said Dave Pankhurst, BT’s director of drones. "It’s an exciting time to be part of such a powerful consortium".

He added: "Project Skyway will be crucial to showcase how the UK can not only lead the creation of new jobs and public services but form the backbone of how we integrate drones into our daily lives".

But it's not just the UK that is seeing more and more drone rollouts. Walmart is expanding its drone delivery service to 34 locations across Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Texas, Utah, and Virginia, potentially serving 4 million households in a collaboration with DroneUp.

Will McCurdy has been writing about technology for over five years. He has a wide range of specialities including cybersecurity, fintech, cryptocurrencies, blockchain, cloud computing, payments, artificial intelligence, retail technology, and venture capital investment. He has previously written for AltFi, FStech, Retail Systems, and National Technology News and is an experienced podcast and webinar host, as well as an avid long-form feature writer.