UK launches ‘Innovation Sandbox’ to be at forefront of aviation technology

With projects ranging from air taxis to AI in air traffic control, the UK CAA’s ‘Innovation Sandbox’ plans to keep UK aviation at the forefront of technology.

UK launches 'Innovation Sandbox' to be at forefront of aviation technology

The UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has launched a new virtual space in which new technology can be safely tested – the ‘Innovation Sandbox’.

The Sandbox is offering innovative companies the chance to discuss, explore, trial and test emerging concepts, helping the UK’s aviation sector to continue to be at the forefront of technology.

The new CAA Innovation Team, initially funded by a Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) grant, has launched the Innovation Sandbox with six participants.

The six participants and their projects are:

  • Altitude Angel – a company delivering solutions which enable the safe integration and use of highly-automated drones into airspace. Through its airspace management platform, GuardianUTM O/S, it delivers software foundations for safely unlocking the potential of drones.
  • Amazon – a future delivery system from Amazon designed to safely get packages to customers in 30 minutes or less using unmanned aerial vehicles
  • NATS and Searidge Technologies – air traffic control body NATS and its digital tower partner, Searidge Technologies, are working to implement new technology such as artificial intelligence (AI) and digital air traffic control towers.
  • NBEC Consortium – Cranfield University and its partners, Blue Bear Systems Research, Thales and Vodafone are creating an experimentation corridor that will enable drones and unmanned aircraft to fly beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) by having their locations tracked and thus safely fly in the same airspace as manned aircraft.
  • Nesta Challenges – the Flying High Challenge, part of Nesta Challenges, is a collaborative engagement with cities, technologists, researchers, regulators, government, public services and the public to shape the future of urban drone use in the UK.
  • Volocopter – a company developing electrically powered urban air taxis (eVTOLs) – based on drone technology – to help modern cities solve their increasing mobility issues.

The CAA’s innovation team will work closely with the participants to help them understand how they can meet regulatory requirements. Ultimately, this will be one of the elements these innovators will need in order to bring their new aviation and travel products and services to market.

Announcing the new Innovation Sandbox, Tim Johnson, Director at the UK CAA, said: “The UK is a global leader for aviation innovation and we are excited to be playing our role to support this. Public safety remains our number one priority, and our Innovation Sandbox will allow for the creation of world-first technologies, tried and tested in a safe environment.”

Emma Simpson, Head of the UK CAA’s new Innovation Team, added: “We are working to enable innovative ideas and continue to collaborate with the international community, working with industry, for the public. These first six participants in our Innovation Sandbox are bringing exciting opportunities for the UK to benefit from in years to come.”  

Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Greg Clark, said: “We are in an era of rapid technological change and it’s exciting to see how these pioneering projects will put the UK at the forefront of growth industries of the future. Our innovation-friendly approach builds on our global reputation in regulation, and is helping make the UK the global destination of choice for new aviation technology as part of our modern Industrial Strategy.”

Aviation Minister, Baroness Vere, said: “New technologies such as artificial intelligence and drones have the potential to transform how we move people and goods around, both key aims of our Future of Mobility Grand Challenge and our forthcoming Aviation Strategy. The work of these six innovators demonstrates that the UK is a leader in exploring how to safely utilise these opportunities for the good of the country.”

Professor Iain Gray, Director of Aerospace at Cranfield University, said: “The potential of drones and unmanned vehicles to boost UK productivity is well documented and the technology is well developed. However, there are understandable regulatory concerns that need to be overcome about how they operate alongside manned aircraft. Being part of the UK CAA’s Sandbox will allow The NBEC Team (Cranfield, Blue Bear Systems Research, Thales and Vodafone) to develop NBEC into a national asset that will pioneer the integration of manned and unmanned aircraft.”

Andy Taylor, NATS Chief Solutions Officer for Digital Towers, said: “New technology, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and digital air traffic control towers, is set to revolutionise how air traffic is managed at airports all around the world. We’re really pleased to be working closely with the UK CAA, exploring what these technologies are capable of and the impact they will have on the aviation industry.”

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