Consortium led by BT wins UKRI Future Flight Challenge funding

Consortium wins funding to research and develop drones and artificial intelligence applications for ports and highways                                                                                            

The ‘Intelligent Drones for Port and Highways Technology’ (InDePTH) project, which is part of the ‘Future Flight Challenge Phase 3’ programme, has received government backing, thanks to major new funding available via research agency UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) to help achieve an ambitious vision for the UK’s future drone economy.

As part of the project, BT, Associated British Ports (ABP), Kier Highways, Connected Places Catapult, RoboK and Herotech8 are all working together to build and test the use of drones to carry out automatic ‘beyond visual line of sight’ (BVLOS) missions to monitor and control critical national infrastructure such as highways and ports. Specifically, the project will demonstrate value in three use case areas for ports and highways, including landside port operations and management, marine operations and highway safety and defect inspections.

The ambition for the project is to create efficient, low-carbon, cost-effective solutions for infrastructure management with Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) and practically showcase opportunities for ports and highways to use ‘drones as a service’. Using AI and data analytics, the project will develop the InDePTH platform offering seamless integration from UAS imagery, through operational systems, to actionable insights.

A key aim of the project is to enable near real-time data transfer from capture to insight generation. By doing this, the data gathered by UAS becomes a greater asset to a wider number of end users. Close collaboration between the two end users ABP and Kier will engage different industries with very similar requirements, sharing best practices and physical demonstrations.

Digital twins of Ports and Highways will be built and used with real-time data from drones to give a rich picture of current operations, incidents and asset condition. AI will be applied to analyse drone imagery in several use cases, including maritime infrastructure inspection, reactive ad-hoc flights to quickly identify hazards both on land and over water and inspection and auto-classification of safety critical highway defects such as potholes.

John Davies, Chief Researcher, BT commented: “As the UK’s leading communications provider we are constantly looking to find new, exciting ways to use technology to improve solutions, processes and networks and better serve our customers, across many industry verticals. As a network leader we’re delighted to be working with partners in this project to combine our skills, knowledge and expertise, to develop cutting edge drone-based solutions. Working collaboratively, we can realise the true potential of drone technologies and develop the innovative new use cases that can add value to ports and highways and many other industries. Together we are taking a leading role in demonstrating the positive impact drones can have on the economy – specifically helping businesses to become more efficient and supporting the path to net zero.”

About BT

BT Group is the UK’s leading provider of fixed and mobile telecommunications and related secure digital products, solutions and services. We also provide managed telecommunications, security and network and IT infrastructure services to customers across 180 countries.

BT Group consists of four customer-facing units: Consumer serves individuals and families in the UK; Enterprise and Global are our UK and international business-focused units respectively; Openreach is an independently governed, wholly owned subsidiary, which wholesales fixed access infrastructure services to its customers - over 650 communication providers across the UK.

British Telecommunications plc is a wholly-owned subsidiary of BT Group plc and encompasses virtually all businesses and assets of the BT Group. BT Group plc is listed on the London Stock Exchange.

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