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Preston explores the future of drone technology

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Urban construction projects are the focus for the city

The University of Central Lancashire’s (UCLan) Civic Drone Centre and Preston City Council are investigating further uses of drones to support urban construction projects in Preston.

Over the last six months, the duo have worked with global innovation foundation Nesta’s Challenge Prize Centre, who are running the Flying High Challenge, to explore how the city could capitalise on drone technology in the coming years.

The construction and regeneration in the city project has been selected by Nesta’s Challenge Prize Centre. It is believed the key benefits to drones for construction and urban regeneration include:
• Increased efficiency in construction site management
• Reduced waste
• Speedier recovery from incidents
• Reduced risk of injury for workers
• Better environmental management

Darren Ansell, lead for space and aerospace engineering at the EIC and Civic Drone Centre, said: “Our Flying High work has identified some real opportunities for drones to make a difference in Preston, both in the near and long-term. In key areas such as city regeneration and in the many construction projects in and around Preston, drones could be used at all stages to provide up to date information to help architects, planners, construction companies work more efficiently and reduce risks to workers to avoid working at height for example.

“In the future, increased automation will make the technology easier to operate and far more common. We are looking forward to working with our local authority partners to explore opportunities for introducing drones, and working with the large aerospace supply chain cluster in the region to innovate new drone technologies.”

Our Flying High work has identified some real opportunities for drones to make a difference in Preston, both in the near and long-term.

Derek Whyte, assistant chief executive of Preston City Council, said: “This is a prime example of how the council is working with partners across the city for the benefit of its residents.  We are keen to spearhead innovation and technology such as drones to create more opportunities for skills development and employment opportunities now and in the future.

“The Flying High project has enabled us to consider how drones can save time and money for the council and partners, particularly across City Deal infrastructure projects, and we are looking forward to continuing to work with UCLan on further developing user cases for drones.”

The UCLan Civic Drone Centre and Preston City Council, have worked alongside key groups such as the North West Aerospace Alliance, Lancashire County Council, the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership, and the wider city community to understand how drones could have a positive impact on Preston and beyond.

Nesta’s Challenge Prize Centre’s Flying High report, which details the key findings on how the UK as a whole could take advantage of being a leading developer of drone technologies, is published today.

The Preston based team is keen to continue the conversations, and is exploring a range of use cases around how the city as a whole could benefit from cutting-edge drone technologies. The Civic Drone Centre has a track record of exploring new drone technologies and using them for the benefit of people and communities. Previous areas of work include search and rescue, media and humanitarian aid.

What should come next is a plan that takes the vision of cities, public services and citizens and frames them as challenges to be actively solved.

More broadly, Nesta’s key findings from this phase of Flying High, which featured a number of work streams including public impact analysis, systems research, industry mapping and key stakeholder engagement, are that drones can bring benefits to UK cities, exploring how drone use cases could positively affect public opinion. It also looks at how aviation regulations should be updated to allow the UK to be at the forefront of drone technology.

Tris Dyson, Executive Director of the Challenge Prize Centre at Nesta, explains:

“The first step in Flying High has been to better understand what drones’ place in our skies might be, to find out what challenges lie in store, to assess the benefits to cities and the people who live in them, and to start a much-needed conversation to build a shared view of this future.

“What should come next is a plan that takes the vision of cities, public services and citizens and frames them as challenges to be actively solved.”

Preston was one of five English cities and regions chosen for the Flying High project. The others were London, Southampton, Bradford and the West Midlands.

Rachel Atkinson | 24 July 2018