Five UK cities selected to develop future of drone operations

Today, we are pleased to announce the five pioneering cities that we are partnering with this year to design how drone technology could operate in complex city environments to address local needs.

This announcement follows an open call launched in November by Nesta’s Challenge Prize Centre as part of the Flying High Challenge, developed in partnership with Innovate UK.

Bradford, London, Preston, Southampton and the West Midlands will now work with the Flying High team over the next five months to look at how drones could be used in their communities. From using drones to support public services to the commercial opportunities that might exist, they’ll explore the public attitudes, environmental impact, logistics and safety of drones operating in complex urban environments.

Each city boasts credentials in areas from aerospace to robotics and autonomous vehicles, and many have unique approaches to public engagement and local economic development, making them exceptionally well placed to deliver on both the technical and societal aspects of the programme.

Meet the cities


Some of the earliest drone testing happened in Bradford, a city with a population of over half a million across a large district that includes densely populated urban areas, moorland, farmland and woodland. It’ll be looking at how drones can support district priorities such as flooding and community safety.


The capital has the busiest and most heavily regulated airspace in the UK, presenting unique challenges for drone deployment but with a natural flight corridor in the Thames. The city will be looking at a range of applications in support of the Mayor’s Strategies and the Healthy Streets Approach to city planning, from near-term applications such as river search and rescue to future-gazing ideas such as drone deliveries.


A small city of over 100,000 people and the main urban centre in Lancashire, is the location of the largest aerospace cluster in the UK. The city is home to the Civic Drone Centre, set up by the University of Central Lancashire in 2014 to work with local authorities, communities and businesses to support new applications of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Drones are already being used in Preston to support the fire service and local Environment Agency and the Council is interested in extending this to other areas such as upgrading road networks and monitoring air pollution.


One of the UK’s major port cities and interested in drone uses around port safety, blue light services and offshore logistics. The City Council is working in collaboration with the University of Southampton, which has very strong drone and autonomous systems expertise as the leader of a large consortium project called CASCADE looking at the implementation of drones in civil airspace as well as participating in the EPSRC Future Cities project from a drone perspective and the Airstart project with the Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI).

West Midlands

A large region encompassing the cities of Birmingham and Coventry, including two airports, several universities, multiple local authorities and 2.8 million residents. The city is interested in UAV use cases surrounding the UK City of Culture 2021 and Commonwealth Games 2022 events. There is a lot of work going on in the region around autonomous/semi-autonomous systems, and potential synergies for Flying High with a connected and autonomous vehicle test bed being built in the region.

From February to June 2018, the Flying High team will work closely with each city to explore potential uses of drones, develop visions that shape the future of drones in each city and identify the necessary requirements to sustainably realise these visions.

For more information about the programme, visit:

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