Transport for London has conquered the water, the rails and the roads and now it is preparing to conquer the skies.
As the UK moves to better integrate drones into its urbanised areas, with projects such as Nesta’s Flying High Challenge bidding to incorporate drones into developed cities, TfL is looking to enhance its service with the use of UAV capabilities in the capital.
Transport Innovation Directorate foresight manager, Gareth Sumner, gave Commercial Drone Professional an insight into TfL’s role within the programme.
What can UAV capabilities offer London and TfL?
The drone industry has expanded significantly in recent years and London’s public sector has already trialled using drones in various situations. This includes inspecting the construction of the Elizabeth Line and tactical operations by the Met Police.
The capital has the busiest and most heavily regulated airspace in the UK, and the Nesta challenge will allow the city to have serious conversations about if, how and where drones could safely be used in future for the benefit of the city.
If they can be safely and sensibly integrated in London, they can be integrated anywhere. As part of Nesta challenge we will be exploring the feasibility and appropriateness of a wide range of use cases including asset inspection, support to the emergency services and delivery of critical medical items.
What impact do you think public sentiment will have on such a large project?
London has experienced initial use of drones for safer infrastructure inspections and helping the capital’s emergency services, and now needs to actively engage in how this market will develop in future.
A big part of this will be engaging with a wide range of London stakeholders and the public to understand their ideas, priorities and concerns about the technology. Our number one priority is always public safety and our approach to drones will be no different.
What are some of the main challenges you expect to encounter during this project?
Being part of the Nesta Flying High challenge will allow us to initiate a responsible, safety-first and collaborative approach to investigating the future of drones in London. The main challenge is to understand the ideas, priorities and concerns of stakeholders and the public and ensure we have an open mind regarding the outcomes of this engagement. This will help us and Nesta to articulate a potential vision for drone use in urban areas like London.
What is your ultimate goal with the Flying High partnership?
We want to understand the risks, concerns and opportunities of this rapidly evolving area, and to identify what steps are needed to ensure the use of drones benefits the city and supports our ‘Healthy Streets’ approach for London’s future.
Why do you think it is important drones are developed for transportation and emergency applications within built up areas?
Europe’s first mega-city is also its tech and financial centre, with a record investment of £2.45 billion in 2017 and a population that by 2030 will reach 10 million. We are committed to the Mayor’s policy agenda led by the ‘healthy streets approach’ and we need to understand more about the opportunities of the technology before we can assess what their role might be in London.
It is therefore essential that London’s public sector works together and in collaboration with organisations like the CAA and the DfT to understand if and how the potential benefits of drones could be realised in an appropriate, acceptable and safe way.
This is what the Nesta programme will enable us to do over the next four months, with the aim of developing a clearer understanding of what is possible and what is required to unlock public benefit in London.