A British start-up is working on an E411 for drones

Altitude Angel, a British start-up, is developing a highway project for drones. It could end next year. Technically, the initiative could extend to Belgium. Whether he has priority remains to be seen.

It’s the kind of image that still reeks of a sci-fi movie: hundreds of drones spinning at top speed above our heads, all on a perfectly millimeter broom. At Altitude Angel, however, we would like to move quickly from fiction to reality. Launched in 2014, the British startup set itself the challenge of building the world’s first drone highway. Planned between the cities of Coventry and Reading in North London, should stretch for 265 kilometersabout 150 meters above sea level.

265

kilometers

The first drone highway planned by Altitude Angel is expected to link Coventry to Reading, approximately 265km.

For the operationalization of this air expressway, a series of challenges still need to be overcome. The main thing will be to avoid collisions between flying machines. For this, the start-up intends to install sensors on the ground, along the entire route. The latter will have the task of analyzing the famous air corridor in real time and pre-establishing the trajectories of each of its users.

While the project is ambitious, the concrete steps are becoming clearer. Starting with the legislative aspect. The United Kingdom has recently adapted its legislation, namely to allow remote piloting of drones. Until now, pilots had to maintain constant visual contact with the drone. The financial and technical aspects also seem to be on track. British Telecom, a shareholder in the company, has just announced a £5m investment in the young British film. In addition to financial reinforcement, the telecom operator also intends to make its technical skills available for the deployment of sensors.

In terms of practice, Altitude Angel can also rely on your initial research. In 2020, the start-up already had the opportunity to first tests on a stretch of 8 km. The project was then largely funded by the government and one of its research funds.

The UK plays an important role in the emergence of autonomous drones. The country is multiplying initiatives and tests of all kinds. Recently, the British postal operator tried during covid to deliver parcels to the Isles of Scilly, located several dozen kilometers from the British coast.

Operational from 2024

According to Altitude Angel, the first motorway project could already be completed in 2024. Ultimately, the desire is obviously to grow the network and multiply links around the world. Could British ambitions take off quickly here too?



“Technically, such a project would be possible in Belgium.”

Audrey Dorigo

Spokesperson for Skeyes

“Technically, such a project would be possible in Belgium”, specifies Audrey Dorigo, spokesperson for Skeyes. “The creation of this highway network is not different from the creation of U-space, a dedicated and regulated airspace for the management of unmanned aircraft (UAS) air traffic”, she specifies.

The expressways imagined by Altitude Angel may not be the first step essential for the development of drone transport. “We prioritize the creation of regulated spaces in areas where the demand for drone services is higher, such as seaports (eg the port of Antwerp). The creation of highways will follow later”, explains the spokesperson.

Doctor instead of Amazon package

It also remains to be seen whether these highways would actually be used as much as their creators had hoped. Currently, drone transport is still marginal. It must be said that it is still a long way from being able to compete with traditional freight transport. “In 2021, drone traffic experienced an impressive increase”, however, Skeyes’ communication manager advances, without advancing numbers.

Instead of basic parcel delivery, the advent of drone transport can be done through very specific transport. “Drones represent a very dynamic sector from an economic point of view, but also very promising for other uses, in particular medical, because they allow for very fast transport that does not depend on road traffic that is often saturated”, explains Audrey Dorigo.

And at this point, theelgium is one of the pioneers. Last summer, a drone transported human tissue between two hospitals in Antwerp for the first time in Europe. In case of heavy traffic, road transport takes more than 20 minutes. The drone test saved more than half of the travel time.

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