Local BVLOS in Controlled Environments Pathfinder

This Pathfinder project aims to develop and demonstrate the viability of a new approach to flying ‘beyond visual line of sight’ (BVLOS) operations.

The ‘Local BVLOS’ operations addressed are those that take place in controlled environments such as industrial sites or where the area is under temporary emergency service control.

The Line of Sight Pathfinder has one main objective, which is to enable drone service providers to remotely operate complex drone missions on such sites from a central control room. This approach will reduce risk and increase productivity for businesses and benefit the public in emergency situations. The project will tackle the technical and regulatory challenges associated with these ‘Local BVLOS’ operations by deploying the system on several live industrial sites and in an emergency service situation. The project will:

  • Develop a new flying method that teams highly automated drones with a remote pilot. This approach combines the best of human and machine and is more robust, cost-efficient and scalable than current state of the art (VLOS flights). Success will unlock value for customers in heavy industries such as construction, infrastructure and oil & gas – as well as the emergency services.
  • Design and build a system suitable for testing in controlled environments (including urban and industrial). This work will take place across software and hardware, including but not limited to: increasing mapping and positioning, increasing the drone’s level of automation, improving the comms protocol and building a system that can be used to test our approach.
  • Test a range of operations, including routine missions such as repeated inspections of large infrastructure assets as well as more complex ad-hoc operations such as responding to emergency situations or inspection operations on-the-fly. Tests will take place with three end-customers: Skanska, Atkins and Lancashire Fire & Rescue Service. These demonstrations will be supported by NATS, Vodafone, Foster + Partners and SLAMcore.

Key challenges the project addresses

  • Test’s robust positioning approach, which relies on computer vision and LIDAR technology to determine the drone’s position in its operating environment.
  • Develop an understanding of the BVLOS operating environment not visible to the remote pilot using digital twin technology, which provides the pilot with exceptional 3D spatial awareness in real-time.
  • Further advance’s bandwith-efficient and latency-tolerant communications technology between the pilot and drone, to enable missions to operate using cellular networks with satellite backup.
  • Develop technology that will enable autonomous / automatic termination of the mission should communications with the pilot be lost.
  • Develop and test various geofencing and geo-awareness capabilities.
  • Ensure all safety precautions are met when testing the system.
  • Continue working with the CAA to ensure the regulatory environment is supportive.

The consortium

The project consortium includes Skanska, Atkins and Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service. The testing and demonstrations will be supported by NATS, Vodafone, Foster + Partners and SLAMcore. is UK start-up led by a highly experienced team of four seasoned founders from Arup, Apple, CERN, McLaren and hedge funds. Between them they have developed Formula 1 cars, supercars and high-performance hydrofoiling sailboats – winning a Formula 1 World Championship and two America’s Cups in the process.

Project Completion: August 2020