Drones set for revolutionary flight path

This article is an on-site version of our #techFT newsletter and is usually available only with a Premium subscription. Are you currently a Standard subscriber? Click here to switch your subscription to Premium. Not yet a subscriber? You can take out a Premium subscription here

The information superhighway is the dated term for the internet in the 1990s, but a “drone superhighway” being touted for the UK is best compared to the advent of the railway network 200 years ago, according to its leading proponent.

Richard Parker, CEO and founder of Altitude Angel, which aims to provide air traffic control software for such a corridor, claims Britain is at the forefront of a second transport revolution with “the skills and ambition to open our skies to safe and secure drone and air-taxi flights “.

A government advisory committee report in November on the industry’s potential concurred. It said there was “a real opportunity for the UK to assume a global technology lead on drones, but, more significantly, . . . put the right regulatory framework in place that becomes the standard across the world “.

The regulator, in the shape of the Civil Aviation Authority, has been cautious to date. It has allowed “sandbox” trials, such as last year permitting West Sussex-based drone company Sees.ai to begin operating regular flights beyond the pilot’s line of sight at three locations in the UK.

Altitude Angel has been testing its detect and avoid (DAA) technology in a five-mile zone near Reading in Berkshire, but is hoping for the green light from the government this month on a far more ambitious project. The world’s largest and longest network of “drone superhighways” would link towns and cities across the English Midlands with the south-east and those along the south coast, covering 165 miles.

The Project Skyway plans, submitted by an Altitude Angel-led consortium, would use 29 towers along the route, relaying information from drone sensors back to the traffic management systems. BT’s cellular network would be used, with the back-up of Inmarsat’s satellite communications.

“We want to make the UK the first place in the world to have a regulated, open access, fair and efficient system for fully automated, beyond line-of-sight flight. What an amazing thing that would be,” Parker said.

If the go-ahead is given this month, he anticipates the infrastructure being deployed by the end of October and fully certified flights by next spring. Early use cases would be transporting of blood samples between NHS labs, inspections of infrastructure, aerial photography and delivery of light, commercial goods.

“All we need now is the government to say: ‘Right, we want this transport capability’,” said the chief of Altitude Angel, which is also working with the Netherlands on a system.

“It’s kind of a race, but given our heart is here in the UK, we hope it takes advantage and we get off the ground here first.”

The Internet of (Five) Things

1. Traders go ape over ApeCoin
Venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz is among the investors that received a windfall this week when billions of dollars worth of tokens were issued to the creators, backers and owners of the Bored Ape Yacht Club digital collectibles. Crypto traders rushed to get a slice of the action on Thursday of “ApeCoin”, with more than $9bn worth changing hands in the first 24 hours.

2. Meta sued in crypto case Down Under
Australia’s competition regulator has taken Meta to court for allegedly allowing misleading cryptocurrency advertisements on Facebook, in a test case for the parent group’s responsibilities over actions that cause consumer harm on the social media platform.

Daily newsletter

#techFT brings you news, comment and analysis on the big companies, technologies and issues shaping this fastest moving of sectors from specialists based around the world. Click here to get #techFT in your inbox.

3. FCA leaves crypto firms in limbo
The Financial Conduct Authority has approved only a quarter of applications by crypto firms for the permissions necessary to run their businesses in the UK, as tensions increase ahead of a high-stakes deadline at the end of this month.

4. The scary side of AI-designed drugs
AI-designed drugs now have a dark side: AI-designed toxins, writes Anjana Ahuja. Experiments have shown entirely new classes of lethal biochemical weapons could be conjured up that circumvent current watch lists.

5. A battery-powered symphony for EVs
In their basic form, electric cars are silent. Hans Zimmer wants to change that. The Oscar-winning composer is turning from the silver screen to the open road to answer the question: what should an electric car sound like?

Tech tools — Menlo Micro’s Ideal Switch

Nest proved it could improve on the humble on-off capabilities of the thermostat, but Menlo Micro is showing it can make big advances in the innards of on-off switches in general.

The California-based company announced $150mn in third-round funding this month, including from Nest founder Tony Fadell’s Future Shape, to expand manufacturing of its Ideal Switch™ technology.

It applies advanced semiconductor manufacturing techniques to Micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) switches, enabling them to be tens of times smaller than traditional switch technology.

“The Ideal Switch is poised to replace every switch that distributes power. It is the most ubiquitous electrical component in the world — 20bn are shipped each year,” said Fadell. “It will cost less, last longer, act smarter, and lower climate-busting emissions thanks to its energy efficiency profile. Menlo Micro is one of the biggest technology disrupters of our generation.”

Big claims, but here’s how it works.

City Bulletin — Our pre-market update and commentary. Sign up here

#fintechFT — The latest on the most pressing issues in the tech sector. Sign up here