16 UK companies using drones: Royal Mail, Asda, the BBC and more - Here's how drones are being used in 2016

Margi Murphy
Margi Murphy

Margi Murphy

Margi Murphy is a senior reporter at Techworld and former intern at GP magazine, Pulse and contributor to The Kernel and The Guardian. Margi read English literature at University College Dublin and graduated from City University's Investigative Journalism MA. She is interested in UK startups, innovative tech and big data

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With drones sales set to soar this year, Techworld looks at how businesses in the UK (and some abroad) are using the technology to improve customer service, maintenance and even capture the news.

Read on to find out which companies are using drones...

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Post box © Flickr/Ian Britton

Royal Mail delivery drones

Canadian-born Royal Mail CEO said that the postal service is considering both drones for air-mail as well as autonomous delivery trucks. 

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© Europa

Drones for farming

A wide range of organisations are exploring the use of drones for farming in the UK: from traditional vendors like Thales or Yamaha to universities, government-backed bodies and startups. Juniper Research estimates the agricultural sector will account for 48 percent of all commercial drones sales in 2016.

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Dorset Police

Police drones

Devon and Cornwall police are trialling drones fitted with HD cameras to help search for missing people, monitoring traffic accidents and capture crime scene photos in a similar way to the Helicopter response service. 

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Asda drones?

Asda's parent company, American retailer Walmart, applied for drone licenses to deliver shopping through the skies last year.

Sadly, the application has been made in the states, where Walmart is headquartered, so it may be some time until UK customers can fly their shopping home. 

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© Flickr/sneakysdream

Gaudi's Sagrada Familia

While it's not exactly the UK, the completion of Sagrada Familia has a deadline of 2026 and it aims to use drones to meet this target. 

Speaking to CIO UK, CIO Fernando Villa expresses interest in using drones to scan the building's tall exterior.

Read more about Gaudi's Sagrada Familia vision here.

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NASA is also working on driverless cars © Nissan

NASA to work with UK for drone traffic system

The UK government is discussing a drone traffic management system with NASA, Lord Ahmad Tariq, the Under Secretary of State for Transport, revealed in the House of Lords.

Peers have previously suggested that civilian drones could be tracked and traced for security and safety reasons. 

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© Amazon

Amazon Prime Air

Toward the end of last year Amazon advertised for a drone operator who would be based in Cambridge. Applicants needed “flight test experience, manned or unmanned” and “5+ years of relevant aviation experience, either civilian or military with either manned or unmanned aviation”.

It hopes to drop packages weighing less than 5lbs at customer’s doors in half an hour through its Prime Air service.

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DHL has a technology trends team © DHL

DHL

Logistics firm DHL has been working on drone deliveries long before Amazon. It has even delivered to a pharmaceutical company based on an Island in Germany using its parcelcopter. 

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British Airways isn't endorsing the school, but four of its pilots are founders © BritishAirways

BA pilot's open drone school

Four British Airways pilots opened a UK-based drone training school called UAV Air to help people learn how to fly unmanned aircraft safely and legally. Courses will set you back £1,150 - £1,500. 

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Workers at a Shell plant prepare a drone © Shell

Shell

Shell uses drones in some of Europe's largest energy plants, and is rolling them out in oil and gas facilities in hard-to-reach places (like tall towers or the underside of an offshore oil rig) because it is safer, and more efficient, than sending people. 

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© Network Rail

Network Rail

Network Rail’s ORBIS project, which will see the railways in the UK digitised with 3D cameras and visualised online to analyse maintenance and field worker distribution. It currently uses aerial cameras but would like to use drones to get a better picture of the transport networks.

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© Flickr/Vondera Visuals

Balfour Beatty

The construction firm’s CIO said in 2013 said he would assess whether drones would be useful for building walls and increasing staff safety.

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© Flickr/Chris the Scot

Park rangers in Africa

It's not quite the UK, but Spanish engineers at Polytechnic University of Catalonia in Barcelona have developed a drone that could be used to catch rhino poachers in national parks in Africa, thanks to its thermal vision technology.  

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© iStock/Malifor

BBC and other British Media

Media outlets like the BBC and Al Jazeera have begun using drones to film overhead – but with some undesirable consequences. Three BBC journalists were questioned after breaching high-level security protocols in Davos for the World Economic Forum, and Parisian police arrested three Al Jazeera reporters after their drone was spotted in the Boi de Boulogne skies.

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© Easyjet

Easyjet

Budget airline easyJet has begun completing safety inspections on its aircrafts using drones.

The drone was tested at Luton airport, with plans to roll the technology out to the rest of the network by 2016.

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© iStock/KelvinJay

UK government

Drones in the Ministry of Defence and other aspects of the government are a closely guarded secret. In the past, the Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) Cross Government Working Group have refused to outline its drone policy. This could be about to change now that it has settled with the Information Commisioner's Office outside of court, over Freedom of Information Act rules. 

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© JohnHamilton_IDG News Service

US army

Yes, it's not a UK company. But it is interesting that the US army has tested consumer drones - and decided that they are worth defending against. 

The army brought consumer quadcopters and octocopters to the Network Integration Evaluation war games at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, and Fort Bliss, Texas.

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