University of Bath: Bath spinout Volant Autonomy to lead tests of pilot-free flights in Jersey

A University of Bath spinout company is set to lead a large-scale test that could lead the way to autonomous flights.

Volant Autonomy was set up in 2019 by Dr Pejman Iravani, Dr David Cleaver and Dr Jonathan du Bois from Bath’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, alongside former Boeing and RAF pilot Captain Anthony Lawrenson. Using the academics’ research and expertise in aerospace engineering, dynamics and control, and robotics and autonomy, the start-up specialises in risk intelligence and safety technology.

It was announced this week that Jersey has been chosen as the test-bed for a £3.7million project that could lead the way for autonomous flights. The UK Government funded Agile Integrated Airspace System (ALIAS) programme will see drones being used to test cutting edge aircraft guidance technology aimed at making the skies safer for all aviation, and ultimately enabling autonomous unmanned aircraft proving a better supply-chain and connectivity to the UK and Europe. The project will use Jersey’s world-class connectivity, which includes three separate 4G networks and multiple dedicated Internet of Things (IoT) networks.

Volant is leading a nine-partner consortium that includes Ports of Jersey and the consortium is working with Digital Jersey to access local knowledge and connections to on-island stakeholders. Digital Jersey and Ports of Jersey will be hosting a public Q&A session in September, at the Digital Jersey Hub with Volant Autonomy.

Volant has developed three key products using their Deterministic Agile Risk Intelligence (DARI) technology, which enables safer flight through risk aware flight planning and increased pilot situational awareness, and mitigates against airborne collisions. The technology can be used to enhance safety for manned and unmanned aircraft. Volant is developing the flight guidance technology for use cases such as unmanned logistics aircraft, which could see autonomous drones being used at low altitudes to transport items.

Volant Autonomy’s CEO, Dr. David Cleaver, said: “My family come from the Isle of Wight and I am fully aware of the unique set of challenges posed by Island Connectivity. The ALIAS project will address these through a flexible and agile airspace system that enables safe drone operations for logistics in the near-medium term and air taxis for personal mobility in the long term.”

Digital Jersey CEO Tony Moretta said: “It’s a great example of the attractiveness of the Sandbox Jersey offering that we have been chosen as the test bed for this exciting technology. The infrastructure we offer and the ease with which we can connect Volant to the facilities, regulators, and services it needs, makes us the ideal location. As an island, we can also benefit tremendously as end users. The project will see drone flight trials that will demonstrate the opportunities for us to use sustainable autonomous drone aircraft to help transport medical supplies, commercial cargo, and perhaps ultimately passengers at some point in the future.”

Ports of Jersey, Airport Direct Robin MacRae, said: “We, at Ports of Jersey, are very excited to be part of a consortium involving such cutting edge partners who are looking at such potentially game changing technology. Two of our core strategic business objectives are building connectivity and investing in Jersey’s future, and so ALIAS is a perfect fit for us. This is combined with the ability to be able to work closely with Digital Jersey, a perfect example of local entities working together for the benefit of the Island.”

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