Evidence has emerged at ParcAberporth Unmanned Systems 2008 of increasing activity and interest by the UK's emergency services in the use of unmanned air vehicles for a range of missions.
From Scotland's Stratclyde police to the firemen of ParcAberporth's Ceredigion county, and law enforcement agencies of the English south coast partnership, preparation and evaluation work is being carried for UAVs to conduct search and rescue, criminal surveillance and the monitoring of such events as firefighting.
Strathclyde police will in July evaluate UK company Prioria's Mavaric, which has a bendable wing, following work the police have done with Derbyshire based-Cyberflight's flying wing configuration Cybereye. More recently a Silver Fox was used on 23 June by its developer, Tuscon, Arizona based-Advanced Ceramic Research (ACR) to film an aircraft firefighting drill conducted by firefighters local to the west Wales airport. Taking off at 06:30 and landing again 2h later after the drill that began at 07:30, the Silverfox impressed firefighters with its video. Talks are to continue about further co-operation, according to ACR.However, individual UK regional police forces are not expecting to own and operate UAVs. The south coast partnership's Kent police specialist operations chief inspector Richard Watson told the ParcAberporth 2008 event: "We are not able to afford one of those [UAVs], so it's about sharing [time] and sharing imagery."
The south coast partnership includes Essex and Kent police, the Marine Coastguard Agency, the Marine and Fisheries Agency and the UK Border Agency. The partnership is considering such scenarios as ship monitoring in the English Channel.
The UK's three-year Autonomous Systems Technology Related Airborne Evaluation and Assessment (ASTRAEA) programme is now six months from finishing. Its industrial partners are preparing a proposal for another three-year follow-on programme that would have a similar cost to the current programme with flight demonstrations, about £30 million ($59.5 million). ASTRAEA developed hardware for UAVs to be integrated into controlled airspace and achieved higher technology readiness levels for some systems, while demonstrating the capability in synthetic environments. If the funding can be raised for ASTRAEA two its partners would want to start work in January 2009.
In another civilian application, Aberystwyth University unveiled its Unmanned Air System for Managing Agricultural Practice and claimed the first flight of an autonomous UAV over crop trials in the UK. Designed with the help of Boeing, UK technology company Qinetiq and the university's Institute of Geographical and Earth Sciences, it detects fertiliser levels using modified video cameras.