Droning On...

Drone technology is already here and, as with most disruptors, we have a choice of acting now to shape it to enable the city and citizen to develop positively, or be passive and risk the potentially negative outcomes.

The cityscape, which cars operate in today, is the result of countless historical decisions. These decisions, often taken in isolation and without the benefit of forecasting the effect of emerging technologies, were rarely truly strategic. Consequently cars, not people, have shaped our cities over the last century. We now have the opportunity to ensure that it is our cities that shape the place drones operate within.

For us at DG:Cities, engagement at this stage is crucial. This is why we were delighted to be invited to join Nesta as part of the Flying High project’s London engagement group to look at the future role drones could play in our complex and rapidly growing city.

Nesta’s project has looked at drones from several contrasting and complementary perspectives - not just technology, but also policy, economics and the societal impact.

The 5 cities who engaged in Flying High all examined different (socially beneficial) test cases in detail:

  • 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.

From this examination it was clear that alongside technological development, regulation needs to evolve to allow both these use cases (and in the future drones more generally) to operate.

There is considerable evidence that drones provide an economic opportunity for the UK, but regulation must be updated to reflect advances in this technology, particularly around the management of urban airspace.

Understanding the public’s view of overflying and the effect on those living and working under these multiple new flightpaths has to be a major influencer of policy development. Creating the regulatory environment not just to allow, but to properly manage drones (both remotely piloted and autonomous) as a realistic component of Mobility as a Service, is central to the feasibility of their deployment over long distances or at scale in urban environments.

Our current decisions, and the regulations which cascade from them, will shape the future of our skies.