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Infrastructure giants unite to develop advanced drone system for the urban environment

Pilot remotely operating drone from control centre


20 January 2021


A consortium of 16 entities led by specialist drone command and control solution developer, sees.ai, including road, rail and telecoms infrastructure giants, Skanska Costain STRABAG working in partnership with HS2, has won a share of £30 million to develop and test a remotely operated drone system for industrial and urban environments.

The futuristic system will enable remote inspection and monitoring of urban sites in the public domain e.g., road and rail and telecoms infrastructure, industrial sites (construction, nuclear and oil and gas), and enable live emergency services support.

The system, which uses similar technology to autonomous cars, enables autonomous drones to be flown under tight human supervision by pilots based in a central control room hundreds of miles away. Pilots can precisely execute complex missions remotely – even reactive missions (designed on-the-fly) and close-quarter missions encountering GPS-denial, magnetic interference and degradation and loss of communication.

"Digital innovation across the industry is of crucial importance in moving into a smarter, faster, greener and more efficient way of delivering infrastructure projects. Deploying drones from comfort of their homes will be a game-changer for project teams by speeding up the process and keeping teams safe and socially distanced throughout the COVID-19 pandemic."

Nathan Marsh, Costain's chief digital officer

Congested area operations are very challenging, but the potential reward for unlocking these types of mission in terms of public health and safety, cost efficiency and environmental impact is huge. No single entity could make this happen alone, so this consortium of aviation, aerospace, industrial and emergency service organisations, together with www.sees.ai has joined forces to advance the system and integrate it into the wider aviation ecosystem.

The funding comes from the Future Flight Challenge, Phase 2 competition, part of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, delivered by UK Research and Innovation.

Technical contributors to the consortium are: NATS, Vodafone, BAE Systems, The Met Office, Flock Cover, UAM Consult Ltd and University of Bristol Smart Internet Lab.

The project involves the system being put through a series of tests, increasing in complexity and challenge with Skanska Costain STRABAG working in partnership with HS2. During the test, the system will be operated by leading drone service provider, Terra Drone.


“It’s exciting to be part of this trial to safely fly drones beyond visual line of sight in industrial environments. Although drones are by no means a new concept they are still far from business as usual and we are only just scratching the surface of their potential, especially when it comes to operating in challenging locations such as the underground tunnels we are building for HS2. We are always looking at new ways to improve safety, work more efficiently and deliver a world leading project such as HS2. It’s great to be working with a pioneering company such as sees.ai to support our existing capabilities.”

Harrison O’Hara, innovation Manager, Skanska Costain STRABAG Joint Venture

John McKenna, CEO of sees.ai said:“The Future Flight Challenge funding will accelerate us towards a future where drones fly autonomously at scale – high up alongside manned aviation and low down inside our industrial sites, suburbs and cities. Unlocking the safe and remote operation of drones in urban and industrial locations will deliver huge benefits to society across public health & safety, efficiency, and environmental impact. We are enormously proud to be leading this consortium and to be working with such incredible partners to develop this advanced Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) aviation system.”

- ENDS -



The consortium is comprised of sixteen companies (including sees.ai) made up of technical contributors, drone service providers and end-clients. The technical contributors are: NATS, Vodafone, BAE Systems, The Met Office, Flock Cover, UAM Consult Ltd and University of Bristol. The drone service providers are Terra Drone and Sky-Futures (two of the world’s leading drone service providers). The end-clients are Atkins; Skanska; Skanska Costain STRABAG working in partnership with HS2; Sellafield; Vodafone; Network Rail; and Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service.


sees.ai is a UK-based Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) pioneer, focussed on developing the leading Enterprise BVLOS Command & Control Solution for drone service providers. sees.ai is the only entity selected into both the CAA Regulatory Sandbox (one of only ten entities alongside Boeing and Amazon) and the UK Government Drone Pathfinder backed by the Department for Transport, the Department for Business Energy & Industrial Strategy and the CAA. https://www.sees.ai/about-us.

sees.ai was founded in 2017 by four Co-Founders ex. Arup, Apple, CERN, McLaren and hedge funds - winners of one Formula One World Championship and two America's Cups.


UK Research and Innovation is a new body which works in partnership with universities, research organisations, businesses, charities, and government to create the best possible environment for research and innovation to flourish. We aim to maximise the contribution of each of our component parts, working individually and collectively. We work with our many partners to benefit everyone through knowledge, talent and ideas. For more information visit www.ukri.org


The Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund aims to bring together the UK’s world leading research with business to meet the major industrial and societal challenges of our time. The fund was created to provide funding and support to UK businesses and researchers, part of the government’s £4.7 billion increase in research and development over the next four years. It was designed to ensure that research and innovation takes centre stage in the Government’s modern Industrial Strategy. It is run by UK Research and Innovation.



Innovate UK is investing up to £30m in innovation projects as part of Phase 2 of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) Future Flight Challenge. The Future Flight Challenge is a four year, £125m ISCF programme.

Phase 2 will fund projects that develop integrated aviation systems and/or vehicle technologies that enable new classes of electric or autonomous air vehicles. These could include drones, urban air mobility vehicles or electric sub-regional aircraft. Solutions should be able to be integrated into a mature operational environment, ensuring safe and reliable operation in flight and on the ground.


Terra Drone Europe is part of the Terra Drone Group, one of the world’s largest providers of commercial drone services with over 250 employees in more than 25 countries. Terra Drone is a provider of geographic data acquisition, industrial inspections, and high-end aerial imagery using unmanned aircraft (UAVs). We bundle extensive knowledge and experience in geodesy, topographic surveying, CVI and thermal inspections, aerial imagery and 3D visualisations into one company. By taking quality and safety seriously, we ensure a successful and safe execution of operations in the challenging environments of our clients, both on- and offshore. We operate worldwide and have offices in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

Terra Drone will provide expert input and feedback into the system design, and then lead on operations and planning for Skanska Costain STRABAG working in partnership with HS2.