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Our investment in Altitude Angel

6 Jan 2021 By Zoe Chambers

In September, plans for the world’s first commercial drone corridor were announced. When finalised, the airspace will run along the Thames valley west of London and allow operators to fly beyond-visual-line-of-sight (“BVLOS”) commercial drone missions. These could include package deliveries such as donor organs for transplant and medical supplies. A world-first, this could become the blueprint for a commercial drone network across the globe.

Altitude Angel is the company behind this ground/air-breaking development. The team’s vision is to enable more people to access and utilise highly automated drone technology and they recognise that this can only be achieved if there is a state in which drone air traffic exists harmoniously alongside all other normal use of the sky.  Their mission is to build the world’s leading Unmanned aircraft system Traffic Management (UTM) platform. 

The market

At Octopus, we’ve been talking about the potential of drones to radically transform all sorts of industries for a long time now. Timing, however, has always been guesswork given the political, societal and regulatory hurdles that exist to permit BVLOS flight at scale. The number of applications remains huge, from farming to fire-fighting, but for the industry to be viable, beyond the regulatory changes which we believe are afoot, a system that can safely manage and navigate drones at scale is needed.  A change is required in order to support automated aviation at scale, in a manner which breaks the necessity of the 1:1 ratio of pilot to drone. Altitude Angel’s technology allows autonomous drones to be safely integrated within a nation’s airspace and is the first step towards an era where airspace operations are less human-centric and more machine-centric.

The team

Altitude Angel was founded in December 2014 by Richard Parker and he has built a formidable team around him covering the extensive range of technical and commercial capabilities needed in such a pioneering field.  Re-defining part of the transportation industry is no easy task, and there are experts within the wider team in software and also in communications, regulation, safety management expertise and aviation.

The team’s platform is being used by a number of Air Navigation Service Providers across Europe which should serve to increase enterprise drone use in controlled airspace.  However, where we can see future opportunity is outside controlled airspace.  For unmanned air traffic to be as ubiquitous as other forms of transportation, it will need point-to-point travel infrastructure. 

Drone’s-eye view

The nascent drone infrastructure is on a level with telecoms, railways and motorways. Providers in these systems are valued in the billions (Arriva, a large provider of transport services throughout the UK is valued at $4bn, Eurostar at $3bn). COVID-19 is also playing a part in presenting a clearer ROI picture for the use of drones across different applications: their ability to go where a person can no longer go, as well as their ability to increase the speed of mission completion. Interest in drones across sectors has grown as daily tasks that were traditionally performed by a human could no longer be carried out due to stay-at-home orders.

We are very excited to partner with Richard and his team and look forward to helping them achieve their aim of building a platform that will enable ubiquitous, on demand urban flight everywhere, for everyone, which we believe will create a hugely valuable business.

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