AmeyVTOL has successfully demonstrated the first drone inspection of UK infrastructure to go beyond visual line of sight (BVLoS).
Previous to this, it is thought drone inspections were limited to flight within visual line of sight (WVLoS) and as such, could not go further than 500 metres from the pilot.
During the demonstration, the VTOL flying wing surveyed an area of 2km autonomously and out of the sight of the pilot.
The opens up the potential for BVLoS inspections of long linear infrastructure such as roads, railways and overhead power lines, which would save time and reduce inspection and survey costs, and most importantly improve safety by removing the need for people working alongside a live railway or road.
AmeyVTOL is a joint venture between Amey and VTOL technologies that develops advanced aerial robotics.
BVLoS inspections could also increase 'the quality, volume, and repeatability of data – enabling better asset management decisions and more efficient maintenance,' AmeyVTOL said in a statement.
The breakthrough was made possible by AmeyVTOL’s innovative VTOL Flying Wing that can fly up to 100km on a single charge due to a unique hybrid design and an optimised energy system.
Preparation and execution of the trial were carried out through AmeyVTOL’s operational control centre which conducts planning, simulation, and remote monitoring of BVLoS drone operations.
Advanced communications and simulation capabilities were developed in partnership with world leader Collins Aerospace.
Alex Gilbert, managing director, Amey Consulting, said: 'We are delighted to have successfully trialled a UK first for asset management. Through our collaboration with SME VTOL technologies, we have developed a genuine innovation that could transform inspections and surveys for asset owners in both the public and private sector.
'Being able to go beyond visual line of sight will not just provide safer, more effective inspections but it will empower asset managers with increasingly reliable data, resulting in informed, intelligent decision making.'
The demonstration project was part of a government-sponsored Rail First of a Kind (FOAK) programme promoted by Innovate UK through the Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI), which is designed to bring together government challenges and ideas from businesses to create innovative solutions.
AmeyVTOL said it will 'now be offering this capability to infrastructure owners and operators who want to deliver efficient and repeatable asset safety and condition inspections, and topographical surveys, without placing people in hazardous environments'.