World’s longest ‘drone superhighway’ gets the green light! UK government approves 165-mile long network connecting the Midlands with the Southeast

  • The government has approved plans for a 165-mile long superhighway network
  • It will connect Reading, Oxford, Milton Keynes, Cambridge, Coventry and Rugby 
  • Ground-based sensors will be installed that can guide drones along ‘corridors’ 
  • Detect and avoid technology will prevent collisions between the flying vehicles

While a ‘drone superhighway’ may sound like the stuff of science fiction, the green light has been given for one to be developed in the UK.

The 165 mile (265 km) long superhighway network, dubbed Project Skyway, has today been given the go-ahead from the government.

It will involve a number of ground-based sensors being installed which will guide the connected drones safely through ‘corridors’ to their destinations.

The network will connect airspace above cities including Reading, Oxford, Milton Keynes, Cambridge, Coventry, and Rugby.

The plans were proposed by a consortium led by software provider Altitude Angel alongside BT.

The group hopes the superhighway will ‘unlock the huge potential offered by unmanned aerial vehicles.’

It remains unclear how much the network will cost to be set up, should it be approved. 

A consortium led by software provider Altitude Angel has been given the green light for a 165-mile-long superhighway network dubbed Project Skyway, connecting airspace above cities including Reading, Oxford, Milton Keynes, Cambridge, Coventry, and Rugby

To cover the 165 miles of superhighway, Altitude Angel willl need 29 Arrow Towers – the technology which allows the flights to operate safely and securely in unrestricted airspace

Detect and avoid technology  

The drone superhighway will use Altitude Angel’s detect and avoid (DAA) technology to prevent collisions between the flying vehicles.

This technology was developed back in 2020 in a five-mile flight corridor just south of Reading.

It feeds automated instructions to the unmanned drones to keep them away from others or change path if they’re in danger of crashing. 

DAA only requires basic technical integrations and does not require specialist hardware on-board the drone, meaning it an be utilised by a range of businesses. 

Drones currently cannot be flown without a human pilot except in specific circumstances.

The Skyway is intended to allow manufacturers to connect their pilotless drone’s guidance and communication systems into a ‘virtual superhighway’.

Once connected, the system will take over and guide the drones safely through ‘corridors’ to their destinations, using only a software integration.

This is possible because it uses ground-based, powerful sensors to provide the guidance, so the drones themselves do not need them onboard and increasing their payload. 

Altitude Angel will install 29 ‘Arrow Towers’ – the technology which allows the flights to operate safe and securely in unrestricted airspace. 

Existing infrastructure, such as phone masts, will be utilised where possible, a spokesperson told MailOnline. 

Richard Parker, the CEO and founder of Altitude Angel, said: ‘The capability we are deploying and proving through Skyway can revolutionise the way we transport goods and travel in a way not experienced since the advent of the railways did in the 18th century: the last ‘transport revolution’. 

‘The Arrow technology we are building here is transformative – it is the basis of Skyway and the only scalable, viable mechanism to start integration of drones into our everyday lives, safely and fairly, ensuring that airspace can remain open, and crewed and uncrewed aviation from any party can safely coexist.

‘Skyway gives us not just the opportunity to “level up” access to green transportation across Britain, but we can benefit first and export it globally.’

The drone superhighway will use Altitude Angel’s detect and avoid (DAA) technology to prevent collisions between the flying vehicles.  

This technology was developed back in 2020 and tested in a five-mile flight corridor just south of Reading.

It feeds automated instructions to the unmanned drones to keep them away from others or change path if they’re in danger of crashing.

According to Altitude Angel, DAA only requires basic technical integrations and does not require specialist hardware on-board the drone, meaning it can be safely utilised by a range of businesses. 

The first superhighway will be set up between the Midlands and Southeast, but Altitude Angel says it will make the technology available to allow other towns and cities around the world to set up their own drone superhighways.

This could include an extension to Southampton on the south coast, and Ipswich on the east coast.

The government officially announced the project today at Farnborough Air Show.

BT’s Director of drones Dave Pankhurst said: ‘The social and economic potential of drones is immense and requires close industry collaboration to fully unlock these opportunities in a safe and responsible way. 

‘It’s an exciting time to be part of such a powerful consortium.’

HOW CLOSE IS A NEAR MISS BETWEEN AIRCRAFT AND DRONES?

Near miss is a common term used to describe encounters between different airborne vehicles.

Governed by Airprox, there is no specific distance stated, instead it is gauged by the opinions of the pilot, air traffic controller and the drone operator. 

Earlier this year a ‘near-miss’ report was filed between a police drone and two fighter jets travelling at 520 mph.

Governed by Airprox, there is no specific distance stated, instead it is gauged by the opinions of the pilot, air traffic controller and the drone operator

The Devon and Cornwall officer was convinced there would be a collision as the military jet came into view.

The Airprox board reported the 13lbs device was flying at an altitude of around 300ft when the pilot heard a fast jet approaching.

The F-15 pilot, who was flying at an altitude of 500ft, could not see the drone but the drone pilot said the risk of a collision was ‘high’.  

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