Bristol is at the centre of a fast-growing drone industry that has the potential to transform the delivery of public services such as health and social care – but currently the technology is still at its “1918 point.”
Dr Steve Wright, associate professor in aerospace engineering at the University of the West of England’s unmanned flight laboratory, told a gathering of technology professionals at the Bristol offices of international legal practice Osborne Clarke that the city was becoming a key centre for both the building and use of drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
More than 150 people, including numerous exhibitors, attended the Future Tech event at Osborne Clarke’s Temple Quay office.
Wright said the use of drone technology would soon move away from purely aerial reconnaissance, surveillance, and inspection roles into more physically interactive applications.
He said: “We are currently involved in a project exploring the case for using high speed UAV connectivity to deliver health and social care more efficiently. This a technology that can pivot to new applications – from the current viewing tasks such as reconnaissance, surveillance and inspection to stand-off interactions, such as cleaning or painting, and to close-in interaction such as delivery, collection and placement.
“A new industry is growing up here in Bristol from the bottom up, dominated by start-ups, around both the building and use of drones, but the industry as a whole is still at the ‘1918 point’. By that I mean we are at the same stage as the aircraft industry was 100 years ago – the Wright brothers had flown their maiden flight and we had built the Sopwith Camel, but not yet the Spitfire, let alone the F-22. With UAVs one can’t say with certainty exactly what the future holds but I can’t wait to find out and be along for the ride.”
David Rowan, founding editor-in-chief of science and technology magazine WIRED UK, told the audience that technology would continue to drive major changes in society and the UK workforce.
“Numerous artificial intelligence start-ups have been acquired by the tech giants, for example. You will need a diversity of skillsets to go where the markets are going, but the soft skills will be just as important as ever.
“There will be a massive transition over the next decade or so in terms of redefining how we define ourselves – and how we give status to people who have what we used to call a job.”
Also speaking and exhibiting at Future Tech were Irfon Watkins, CEO and founder of Dovu, who outlined his company’s pioneering of a blockchain token system which could revolutionise urban transport, and Andrew Miles, technical marketing manager at Bristol-based Blu Wireless Technology, who looked at the current connectivity landscape in the UK.
Meanwhile Stewart Bailey, managing director of Virtual Viewing, explored ways that BIM – Building Information Modelling – can help people understand more about their home and office environment.
Peter Clough, head of Osborne Clarke’s Bristol office, told the Future Tech audience: “As a firm we have always worked with innovative companies.
“Our clients range from traditional global technology businesses to those creating the latest breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, robotics, blockchain and 3D printing – businesses that will shape the future and how we live.
“We continue to invest in training, ensuring that all Osborne Clarke people understand the commercial and legal implications of technology-driven transformation and disruption for our clients.
“In addition, our Bristol office hosts Osborne Clarke Solutions, which gives our lawyers the ability to work directly with clients to use technology to build practical solutions to real problems. We are working with multinational businesses across a range of sectors, to reinvent the way our services are delivered, which is hugely exciting.”