UK to form world’s largest drone aerial highway

While roads and trains are efficient methods of transporting goods, there are many advantages to using automated drones to transport time-sensitive goods, including no traffic, low operating costs, and no hassle. human intervention. Now the UK will be home to the world’s longest aerial highway linking several towns and cities with dedicated airspace lanes for automated drones. What challenges does traditional infrastructure present, what will the new air highway enable, and does this mark the start of drone delivery?

What challenges does traditional infrastructure present?

When it comes to shipping goods over long distances, the boat is by far the most efficient. Even though water is harder to cross than air, the resistance of water is less than the rolling friction experienced by cars; combined with the ability to carry huge loads, this results in a mode of transportation that is approximately 2 times more efficient than trains and 20 times more efficient than trucks. Even though trucks are much less efficient than ships, they are still significantly more efficient than planes, and their ability to use roads allows them to deliver goods exactly where they are needed.

Airplanes may be the least efficient shipping method, but they are extremely advantageous in terms of speed of delivery. For example, a large cargo plane traveling from China to New York could make the trip in less than 24 hours (compared to an impossible truck route, an impossible train route, and a five-week freighter).

However, with all the modern technological advancements, there are still many infrastructure challenges to overcome. One such challenge is that roads are still the main method of delivering goods to a specific location, but the increased use of roads increases travel times. This problem is magnified if urgent goods (such as chemotherapy drugs) are being shipped and must be delivered and used within a specified time.

An alternative to road travel is to use planes and helicopters, which introduces a whole different set of challenges. Helicopters are excellent for transporting urgent goods from one place to another, which is why they are chosen for organ transplants and emergency patient transport, but their large size and the need for a helipad designated make them complex to integrate. Their onerous nature and their need for the pilots also make them difficult to mass exploit. Airplanes suffer from the same problems, except that they require large airports to land and take off, which is even less convenient.

The UK will be home to the world’s largest drone aerial highway

One solution to the logistical challenges faced by time-sensitive goods is to use autonomous drones small enough to land on rooftops and parking lots, but large enough to transport small goods and enough power to travel great distances. For short trips, quadcopters make the most sense as they can take off and land vertically, but larger trips requiring fuel efficiency would benefit from small-scale winged aircraft.

But for such infrastructure to become possible, the autonomous craft must have a designated airspace lane denied to other air traffic so that autonomous systems can be simplified in their design (i.e. they require less advanced avoidance systems). For example, the British government recently announced £273 million in funding for the aerospace industry which includes funding for the SkyWay project.

Project SkyWay is a proposed concept that will see several cities and towns across the UK linked to such drone highways. These designated flight paths will allow urgent goods to be dispatched using fully autonomous drones, and the first planned voyage will link Reading, Oxford, Milton Keynes, Cambridge and Rugby with 165 miles of space. If successful, the highway will be extended through the countries to include islands where access to essential medicines as chemotherapy is limited.

Does this signal the start of drone delivery?

The idea of ​​using drones for delivery has been around for decades, but this UK government funding and collaboration with several industrial companies could be the first real implementation of an organized drone infrastructure. Companies such as Amazon have talked about drone delivery for major customers and even prototyped such services, but they have yet to be established.

But this SkyWay project is not the first to develop the idea of ​​frequent drone deliveries for remote locations. Earlier in 2022, Royal Mail has announced that it is working on a fleet of 500 drones dispatch mail to remote locations that are too difficult for staff to traverse. The use of drones not only helps enable rapid delivery of mail, but is also safer as remote offshore islands can be exposed to harsh weather conditions that put lives at risk.

Even places such as the Isle of Wight (located just a few miles from the English coast) can be difficult to deliver time-sensitive goods. As a bridge costs too much to build and the fastest ferries take an hour, drones make sense as the 4 mile trip could be covered in 2.4 minutes, assuming a speed of 100 mph.

Globally, drones are still in their infancybut the rapid development of autonomous systems and supporting technology will see drones become the next mode of cargo transportation.

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