Swarm technology and digital twinning to enable coordination and utilisation of high numbers of 100kg payload UAVs in aid delivery and firefighting applications



Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have the potential to become a reality for civil applications such as the transport of goods, aid delivery, or firefighting.

The ULTRA unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) developed by Windracers is currently being tested to transport COVID-19 medical supplies to the Isle of Wight for example. It is a large, double engine, fix winged, drone with a carrying capacity of up to 100kg, making it a unique platform in the UAV market. For UAV solutions to scale, providers will need to deploy swarms that operate in large numbers, up to 100s. Swarm solutions build on the ability of UAVs to react to their local environment and neighbouring UAVs without having to coordinate through a central control station, making solutions more scalable to large numbers and robust to individual robot or ground station failure. This raises new challenges in the design of algorithms that coordinate the UAVs throughout their deployment, from refuelling and loading, to in-air navigation, and delivery of their payload (goods, aid, extinguishing agent). These algorithms need to be developed in realistic digital twin environments that are just one-click away from testing on board the actual UAVs, seamlessly switching between simulation and reality. Beyond the software, swarm deployments require new UAV hardware allowing for inter-robot coordination, and communication.

This proposal focusses on enabling swarm deployments of the ULTRA UAV through the development of a digital twin that allows for single-click transfer of swarm controllers from simulation to reality. Two use cases will be developed centered around humanitarian aid delivery, and forest fire mitigation, as we expect both applications to require large numbers of UAVs to have a meaningful impact. By the end of the project we will demonstrate a proof-of-concept flight with 5 UAVs. In parallel, we will also work on new hardware for the ULTRAs to allow for inter-robot communication essential for swarming.

This proposal brings together Windracers, the makers of the ULTRA fixed wing 100kg payload UAV, with Distributed Avionics, experts in avionics, ground station, and flight control software for the ULTRAs, and University of Bristol with expertise in swarm engineering.

Lead Participant

Project Cost

Grant Offer





10 25 50