First UK autonomous drone delivery network receives STFC funding

The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) has announced that the UK’s first autonomous drone delivery network will become its 100th space technology start-up.

The revolutionary autonomous drone delivery network is the brainchild of Skyfarer – a company that pioneers unmanned aerial vehicles with a vast array of applications, from providing humanitarian aid to Earth surveillance.

The Skyfarer autonomous drone delivery network marks a significant milestone for the STFC, becoming its 100th start-up since 2010. Skyfarer will now partner with the STFC-funded European Space Agency Business Incubation Centre UK (ESA BIC UK), where it will be provided with state-of-the-art technologies and facilities to develop the project.

Applications of UK drone delivery

The primary objective for Skyfarer’s UK autonomous drone delivery network is to distribute crucial, time-sensitive medical supplies expeditiously, such as vaccines, blood, and organs, which will aid in saving lives and supporting the NHS. Additionally, the autonomous drone delivery networks may have further applications in Earth monitoring, such as measuring road congestion, CO2 emissions, and disaster response.

Once refined, the Skyfarer drone delivery technology could be employed by businesses and organisations around the UK, presenting efficient, safe, cost-effective, and autonomous solutions for logistical operations, with no need for a drone specialist.

© iStock/lakshmiprasad S

How will the project be supported?

The ESA BIC UK is partly funded and managed by the STFC, in collaboration with ESA Space Solutions, the UK Space Agency, and the University of Leicester. The ESA BIC UK creates bespoke 12–24-month support packages for start-ups to aid in advancing industry-changing products and services for the competitive global marketplace.

With the substantial support from the ESA BIC UK, Skyfarer will now advance the software and navigation system that comprises the autonomous drone delivery network, which will utilise ESA Earth observation satellites to access vital weather and positioning data.

Paul Vernon, the Executive Director of Business and Innovation at STFC, said: “For any start-up, turning a great business idea into a profitable, marketable offering is a daunting challenge. Here at STFC, through the ESA BIC UK, we can provide the right environment and support to do this. It’s really encouraging that our incubatees are continuing to maintain an 89% survival rate, despite the challenging times created by the Covid-19 global pandemic.

“I’m thrilled to be celebrating this major milestone with Skyfarer, whose innovative use of satellite technology sets out not only to support the NHS and save lives but also to reduce emissions created through our traditional transport systems. The ESA BIC UK is clearly playing a crucial role in maximising the potential of space for future economic growth, creating jobs and profitable businesses.”

Elliot Parnham, the Founder and CEO at Skyfarer, said: “Making drone delivery possible is an audacious challenge and one that requires collaboration and expertise in various areas to realise the vision. Being accepted into the ESA BIC UK at Leicester is not only an achievement for Skyfarer, a company four years in the making that has persevered through multiple challenges and pivots but an exciting opportunity to realise the vision of autonomous drone delivery of medical supplies. We are honoured to be the 100th company to be accepted into the ESA BIC UK, and we are looking forward to the journey ahead during our incubation at Space Park Leicester.”

Niels Eldering, the Head of the ESA Space Solutions Section, said: “With the UK representing an important part of our journey, the ESA BIC network has grown to 23 ESA BICs, supporting entrepreneurs all over the ESA Member States to bring space as a business solution to the market. Reaching this milestone is so crucial to show that we are continuing to support our entrepreneurs, who are transforming their promising ideas into successful products and services, creating jobs and prosperity. The UK is setting a clear example of this commitment to the entrepreneurial community.”

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