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The following pages explore five use cases for drones in UK cities

What can drones do in UK cities?

Illustration by ILYA

We explore the feasibility of drone applications in cities through case studies

Selected in consultation with five cities

In consultation with the five Flying High project cities, we selected five use cases for drones in order to further explore their feasibility. All use cases are closely related to each cities’ visions for future drone use. We have aimed to explore a range of different use cases, each of which highlight different feasible applications for drones.

The five use cases are:

  • Medical delivery in London.
  • Traffic incident response in the West Midlands.
  • Southampton-Isle of Wight medical delivery.
  • Construction and regeneration in Preston.
  • Supporting the fire and rescue service in Bradford.

These five operate in different sectors and relate to different geographical locations. Some are on fixed routes in dense urban cores, others free-flowing across an urban area, others go beyond the city and over extra-urban land or sea. They have different implications for technology, ranging from small multi-rotor drones to larger fixed-wing drones. They have different levels of requirements from infrastructure and regulation.

The different use cases we explore also vary in how close they are to being realised; in some, more ambition is applied to current uses of drones; others represent a totally new service.

General and specific

We explore the general implications of each use case, then dig deeper into a specific example of it

Our analysis is based on a combination of research and discussions with city and technical stakeholders to define the mission of these use cases. Wherever possible our analysis is based on real data or published documents. However, as with any attempt to specify a completely new service, we had to make a number of assumptions. These have been developed by the Flying High project’s technical and economic teams in consultation with relevant stakeholders.

In each case we looked at the broad description and benefits of the use case, then dug deeper into a specific example of it. For instance, a pair of hospitals to connect, or a particular construction site to monitor.

We used these specific examples to explore the feasibility of the use case, looking at what the key technical features of the drone were and what the requirements of each were. We then modelled their economic viability.

We looked at the real world issues these would face: the airspace they would fly through, the goods they would carry and the sensors they would need.

Although these examples looked in detail only at one instance of a drone operating, our analysis is anchored in the context of a broader drone system operating at scale. In other words, we did not assume an empty sky for them to fly through unmolested. We aimed to understand how they would work in a future where drone deployment in cities is widespread.

By going into detail on how a specific drone could operate in a specific location, we can give indications of what a pilot service might look like, or what kind of service might be demonstrated in a testbed, while also capturing the requirements for such a service to operate at scale.

Further implications of how drones might operate at scale in cities are explored in the following chapter, Exploring drone integration requirements.