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Preston and Civic Drone Centre named ‘high-flying city’

February 7, 2018
John Mills

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Preston has been named as one of five national drone test centres after joint bid from UCLan and Preston City Council was awarded Nesta’s High Flying Challenge status in partnership with Innovate UK.

Over the next five months, the UCLan’s Civic Drone Centre – a partnership between UCLan’s Engineering Innovation Centre and the Media Innovation Studio, 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.

“This recognition on a national scale is fantastic; it is putting Preston’s name up in lights and will open doors at the very top levels of the industry.”

The team, which includes Media Innovation Studio researcher and lecturer John Mills, will have the opportunity to work with technical experts, regulators and government officials while the city will also get priority status for future demonstration projects.

Derek Whyte, Assistant Chief Executive of Preston City Council, said: “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, which was established in 2014 with £250,000 investment. This not-for-profit Centre brings together expertise and stakeholders including local authorities, communities and businesses and has developed and demonstrated many novel drone solutions in diverse fields such as mountain search and rescue, gas sampling for emergency services and mine field surveying.

The Civic Drone Centre is an important component of UCLan’s new £32 million Engineering Innovation Centre, which will be open in the heart of Preston City Centre in early 2019.

The proposal received support from a number of organisations in Lancashire.   According to Michael Green, Cabinet Member for Economic Development, Environment and Planning at Lancashire County Council: “The area represents one of the largest clusters of aerospace activity in the world.  Encouraging innovation in the aerospace sector is a priority for the Lancashire and an important part of the county’s response to the UK’s new industrial strategy”.

The other cities and city regions chosen were: Bradford, London, Southampton and the West Midlands.

Nishita Dewan, Programme Lead for the Flying High Challenge, explained: “The entries to the Flying High Challenge showed the huge appetite from cities across the UK to develop models for drones that work for their people and communities. We saw diverse and creative uses for drones such as boosting wi-fi and helping find lost children at the seaside, to the support for key public services such as delivering AEDs and inspecting critical infrastructure.”

Andrew Carter, Chief Executive of the think tank Centre for Cities, added: “The Flying High Challenge is a great opportunity to examine how different cities can use drones to address the distinct challenges and opportunities they face. It will offer valuable lessons for places across the country on how we can new technology to strengthen local economies and make our cities better places to live and work.”

More information on the Flying High Challenge can be found at  

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