Nesta launches city drone challenge

Innovation organisation promises support for up to five projects on the use of drones in public services

Innovation foundation Nesta has opened up a challenge for urban authorities to design new uses for drone technology.

It said the Flying High Challenge, which it is running with national innovation agency Innovate UK, is aimed at showing how drones could deal with urban issues and help to make the UK a global leader in the field.

Flying droneThe challenge involves authorities designing uses for drones that provide a public benefit without unacceptable costs.

Nesta has pointed to a number of possible applications, such as supporting the rapid transport of blood or organs for the health service, traffic monitoring, environmental and pollution monitoring, search and rescue assistance, and risk assessment of bridges and critical infrastructure.

A spokesperson for the organisation told UKAuthority the challenge is open for applications from organisations such as councils and local enterprise partnerships from today until early January, and that five projects are likely to be chosen for support by early February.

Nesta will then provide consultancy and some technical support in developing the ideas to assess whether they have long term potential. The work will also include investigation of any regulatory, ethical, safety and public opinion issues.

Fit for society

Tris Dyson, executive director of Nesta’s Challenge Prize Centre, explains, “If we are going to have drones in our towns and cities they must be fit for our society.

“By finding uses for the technology -- beyond toys for hobbyists or used in conflict -- the UK can establish itself as a world leader in drones. We need to commit to finding approaches that work at the local level and meet the needs of people without risk to public safety or nuisance.

“The Flying High Challenge asks cities to start with a blank piece of paper and design how drones could be used in ways that bring genuine public benefit, without unacceptable costs.”

Image from GOV.UK, Open Government Licence v3.0