Lancashire targets drone business support


Civic Drone Centre

Drawing on public and private sector expertise from across Lancashire, the region’s Aerial Uptake Steering group met at the end May to drive forward plans to develop local infrastructure.  

Connecting virtually, the steering group reviewed progress of the Aerial Uptake project and discussed key regional matters around how to support a thriving UAV sector.  

Chaired by Professor Darren Ansell at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), conversations featured Preston City Council, Lancashire Fire and Rescue, local UAV firms and the Chamber of Commerce, the aerospace industry and government.  

Drone development so far… 

Ansell provided a background to UCLan’s work around UAVs over the last seven years.  These span the development of Aerosee, a crowd-sourced search and rescue prototype, the creation of the Civic Drone Centre, working with the University of Manchester on the world’s first graphene coated drone and being one of Nesta’s five Flying High cities who imagining future drone-use in city areas.   

The RSG reviewed case studies of best drone practice and heard about how Aerial Uptake will continue to explore how local development policies can best-support the UAV sector. 

This is a key element of the Aerial Uptake project: to create a policy framework that can support and catalyse UAV development.  

Supporting businesses 

A key element of the region’s work moving forward is the establishment of programme to support businesses developing drone technology, and businesses who may wish to adopt the new technology. This is a key area of enquiry for Lancashire’s regional stakeholder group.  

UCLan is investing in drone related equipment to support SMEs, aerospace organisations and other businesses within areas such as prototype, test, trial and commercialisation, and are aiming to support over sixty businesses over the next few years. 

Peter Thomas, head of regional engagement at UCLan, outlined a range of proposals designed to stimulate UAV activity to benefit SMEs, larger aerospace organisations and the economy more generally.  

Darren Ansell said: “Lancashire is home to one of the largest clusters of aerospace companies in the world, and the growing drone sector creates huge opportunities for innovation and growth in the region, creating new markets for existing companies and encouraging new start-up companies to form”. 

One such project that has brought together the university and local businesses in this space is a development of a new fixed wing drone that can be used by the emergency services in several settings. Local businesses have contributed technology to the new drone and trial flights are expected to commence in late August. 

The team are currently finalising proposals and will update the regional stakeholder group in the coming months.