Preston has been named one of five national drone test centres after joint bid from University and City Council.
The city beat off stiff competition from a third of the UK’s cities to be selected and is the North West’s only representative on the Flying High Challenge, the first programme of its kind.
The Flying High Challenge is a programme developed by UK charity Nesta in partnership with the Government’s Innovate UK, and is designed to help the UK become a “global leader in shaping drone systems that place people’s needs first.”
Nesta sought applications from forward-thinking cities who were bidding to participate in a four-month strategic visioning exercise scheduled for this year to identify how drone systems could work alongside cities and their communities.
Southampton, Bradford, London and the West Midlands are the other locations that have been selected for the programme and will receive £500,000 in funding.
The University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) and Preston City Council joined forces to lead the successful application, run by Nesta’s Challenge Prize Centre in partnership with Innovate UK.
Over the next five months, the institutions will work with national drone experts to host a range of events for local companies and work on a strategy to see how drones can be used in the future to respond to a wide variety of challenges.
Dr Darren Ansell, UCLan aerospace engineering lead, said: “The Flying High City challenge is an important opportunity for Preston to develop a vision for the integration of drone systems, building upon its history of aerospace innovation.
Derek Whyte, assistant chief executive of Preston City Council, added: “Given the importance of aerospace in the area, it is vital that Preston takes a lead on identifying drone opportunities. Preston offers a manageable testing ground for strategy development, yet is of sufficient size and complexity to be able to develop solutions that can be scaled-up elsewhere.”
Preston has been at the forefront of identifying and developing civic drone applications for several years, evident through the work of UCLan’s Civic Drone Centre, a non-for-profit facility, which was established in 2014 with £250,000 investment.
The Civic Drone Centre is an important component of UCLan’s new £32m Engineering Innovation Centre, which will be open in the heart of Preston City Centre in early 2019.