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University’s drone plans boosted through £3.2m investment - Invest in Lancashire

20th May 2021 Categorised in Innovation



UCLan receives major funding boost to drive world-class innovation, jobs and economic growth for Lancashire and the North West

Businesses across Lancashire and the North West, specialising in the development of innovative drone technologies, have received a major boost thanks to two multi-million funding grants secured by the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan).

The European Regional Development Fund’s (ERDF) business support programme has awarded the University £1.8 million to provide specialist drone technology and related research and development support to new and existing small and medium size enterprises across Lancashire.

Support will be delivered by UCLan through a series of specialist workshops and hands-on technical demonstrations to show how the use of drones can help drive business growth.

In addition, University experts will work alongside individual businesses to support, develop and flight test new technologies, bringing new products to market and securing long-term research/product development collaborations with the University.

In a separate but related initiative, the £1.4 million Lancashire Drone Command and Control Centre project has been funded by the Lancashire Local Enterprise Partnership.

The funding has enabled the purchase of the very latest drone-related technologies and equipment to enhance the facilities already available in UCLan’s £35 million Engineering Innovation Centre (EIC). The project complements the ERDF investment to provide long-term support to drone sector businesses and drone end users in the region by enabling access to one of the best equipped drone research facilities of any university in the UK.

Across both projects it is anticipated up to 100 highly skilled jobs will be created, 265 businesses supported with a resulting uplift of £4.5 million Gross Value Added to the region’s economy.

Commenting on the major funding boost, UCLan’s Darren Ansell, Professor of Aerospace, said: “This is a game-changer for us as the additional investment allows us to scale up our engagement with companies in the region in order to help increase levels of innovation and create new, high level jobs for the future. This funding will place UCLan, Preston and the North West at the very heart of this high-growth industry, enabling us to develop world-class expertise, jobs and economic growth for the region.”

The investment builds upon the University’s long-term programme of activity and expertise including the establishment of a Civic Drone Centre in 2014.

This centre has demonstrated novel drone solutions in diverse fields such as mountain search and rescue to gas sampling for emergency services and mine field surveying.

The funding also builds upon Preston’s selection as a UK test city for drone use as part of the Nesta Flying High Challenge competition in 2018, an Aerial Uptake European project involving a partnership between Preston City Council and UCLan in 2019 and the opening of UCLan’s EIC.

The additional investment forms part of a platform for wider investment in a Lancashire Drone Innovation Cluster led by UCLan, supported by BAE Systems and the North West Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre with the support of the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership.

Sarah Kemp, the Chief Executive of the Lancashire Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “Here in the North West we have one of the largest clusters of aerospace activity in the world. The Lancashire Drone Innovation Zone has the potential to capitalise on this fact by rapidly driving progress in drone use, enabling industry and the public sector to exploit opportunities presented by a fast-growing global drone market.

“Encouraging innovation in new emerging markets in the aerospace sector is a priority for Lancashire and an important part of the county’s response to the UK’s industrial strategy.”

Professor Julia Sutcliffe, Chief Technologist at BAE Systems Air Sector, said: “Investment in the development of technology is absolutely critical for the future of UK industry and it’s fantastic to see our local university being funded to drive innovative drone research on behalf of the region. The blistering pace of technology development is so great that we must always look for ways to collaborate so that we can deliver solutions more quickly. This funding allows UCLan to really drive and exploit a North West pool of talent that helps to keep the region at the forefront of aviation. We’re proud to support, guide and encourage innovation in this critical and emerging area of autonomous technology.”

The vision is to build upon existing regional strengths and respond to a major international opportunity to provide the UK with a world-class innovation cluster for the development, test and manufacture of civil unmanned aerial vehicles.

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