An area in southern England is to be created for engineers to develop autonomous drones and air traffic management technology that enables them to share the same airspace.
The National Beyond visual line of sight Experimentation Corridor (NBEC) being created in Bedfordshire will be the first area in the UK where unmanned aircraft and manned aircraft can fly in the same airspace. The NBEC will cover around 12 miles between unmanned drone developer Blue Bear Systems Research and Cranfield University’s airport.
Ian Williams-Wynn, managing director of Blue Bear, said, “The UK drone industry is going through an exciting evolution and is poised for growth. Operation under beyond visual line of sight, alongside co-operative and non-cooperative air traffic in a managed environment, provides a unique opportunity to maintain the UK at the forefront of drone application development and future adoption.”
The NBEC will be operated by both Blue Bear and Cranfield, who will run their respective systems and also provide a capability for other companies to come and test their Unified Traffic Management concepts in a safe managed environment.
Initially, part of the NBEC will be 5G enabled as part of the current Department of Culture, Media and Sport 5G programme, with future plans to enable the entire corridor.
Cranfield hopes that other companies will use the NBEC to conduct experiments with unmanned freight and logistics for both road and air, connected autonomous vehicles (CAV), and the infrastructure that goes with it.
The NBEC location is rural, allowing safe experimentation areas away from major roads and urban areas. It is surrounded by core CAV testing locations and infrastructure such as the Millbrook automotive testing center, making it the perfect location to become the future hub of UK unmanned systems experimentation.
Professor Iain Gray, director of aerospace at Cranfield University, said: “The potential of drones and unmanned vehicles to boost UK productivity is well documented and the technology is well developed. However, there are understandable regulatory concerns that need to be overcome about how they operate alongside manned aircraft.
“In partnership with Blue Bear Systems Research, Cranfield is aiming to create an environment which will enable the UK to pioneer the integration of manned and unmanned aircraft.”