Government and industry representatives have gathered at Wales’s Snowdonia Aerospace Centre this month to watch Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) take on a series of innovative missions.
The week-long event, hosted by QinetiQ in partnership with the Welsh Government and Snowdonia Aerospace LLP, demonstrated how drones flown from the airfield can help to tackle environmental issues and other commercial challenges.
The demonstration consisted of two scenarios; one exploring the use of drones in fisheries protection, and the other in managing the threat to the Welsh coast from erosion and flooding.
A Bramor rTK drone, with a wingspan of 2.3m, flew from the airfield and out over the Welsh coast to collect data on the area’s vulnerability to erosion and flooding. A high-definition camera took a series of pictures that can be layered to provide a 3D model of the area’s topography. The 3D model can be filled with ‘virtual water’ to indicate which areas would be submerged in the event of a flood.
Around 60 per cent of the Welsh population lives in coastal areas, with an estimated 84,731 properties at risk from tidal flooding. Around 2,000 properties will be at risk from coastal erosion over the next 100 years if there is no active management.
The exercise demonstrated how drones could help to spot the warning signs early, enabling better preparedness and timelier response.
Guests learned how similar missions could be used to monitor flora and fauna in sensitive natural habitats.
Maritime scenario: fisheries protection
A 2.3m Bramor C4Eye drone, equipped with a small video camera, was launched from the airfield and flew out over Cardigan Bay, where it approached a Welsh Government fisheries patrol vessel to collect data on its position.
The activity showed how authorities can investigate vessels for signs of illegal fishing. Authorities can act on the information immediately to prevent further offences, or use it as evidence to pursue prosecutions at a later date.
Jeremy Howitt, Unmanned Services Campaign Manager at QinetiQ, said: “The environment we operate here in Snowdonia puts Wales on the global stage for UAS training and the test and evaluation of unmanned systems. As understanding of unmanned technology grows, sectors such as emergency services, agriculture, and communications are beginning to see the possibilities. This demonstration is a chance for our guests to see first-hand the role Wales could play in realising that potential.”
Welsh Government Economy Minister Edwina Hart said: “Wales is well placed to take advantage of the growing interest and use of drones for a wide range of civilian uses. These trials illustrate the benefits that can be realised and highlight the facilities and expertise available in Wales. We have two unique centres in Wales – at Llanbedr and Aberporth – that have benefited from significant infrastructure investment and are in pole position to maximise these emerging opportunities and attract investment as the technology develops.”