Analysis carried out as part of the Nesta’s Flying High programme has found the drone sector in the UK is ‘thriving’.
The research, run by Nesta’s Challenge Prize Centre, described a diverse ecosystem of products and services will help make the UK a global leader in the industry.
Flying High, which explores how cities can shape the future of drone use, has created an interactive visualisation showing the locations of civic and commercial drone industry players in the UK.
The visualisation is based on a comprehensive UK database of over 700 companies that are researching, developing or offering drone-related products and services, as well as research institutes and industry bodies.
According to Nesta, the research has uncovered a complex and large UK drone sector.
To capitalise on these strengths and position the UK as a global leader in drone services, Nesta found strong agreement from central government, technology experts, industry leaders, academics and regulators on the next steps needed, which meant primarily supporting infrastructure and the space to safely experiment and test new technology in cities.
An anticipatory approach to regulation that fosters innovation within the context of urban airspace is also thought to be essential, coupled with public engagement to shape the market and alignment among key stakeholders in government, local authorities, the technology sector and public services.
To develop the drone industry map, data was provided by Glass, a London-based start-up that has developed AI technology to read the web.
Nesta believes the large number of companies indicates that the UK has fertile ground to build on, including 20 academic and research institutes with drone-focused research groups.
Additionally, Gateway to Research data shows that over £78m in research grants for drone-related projects has been allocated from UK government funding in the last six years.
Tris Dyson, executive director of the Challenge Prize Centre, said: “Drones are an emerging technology and much of their promise lies in the future. But there is already a significant drone economy in the UK today and much of the future economic opportunity will come from these smaller companies and institutions that we have identified in our research.”
He added: “In order to ensure this potential is realised, these companies need more than just technology push funding. In the first phase of Flying High, we identified a number of barriers to entry that are currently inhibiting market development and the approach needed to unlock them via subsequent phases of the programme to enable testing and development of new models of urban airspace usage.”