The sea is dangerous and no one likes robots, so why not send a drone on rescue missions? offers £990k for pilotless pilot

The UK's Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) is coughing up just shy of a million quid to see how drones could help with sea rescue and surveillance operations.

Interested parties have until 19 August to put in a bid and will need to be ready to go by 1 September.

The invitation to tender aims to improve MCA operations while reducing risks to staff.

The tender is valued at £990,000 and will be awarded to one project, but smaller companies are free to form partnerships or groups to make a bid.

It lays out a variety of tests such as searching for objects of interest within a five by five nautical mile box and searching a ten by one nautical mile box with a last known position at one end.

Drones should be larger than 7kg and capable of a minimum of three hours of unsupported flight. They will be used both for searching for missing or "overdue" people or vessels and for identifying and tracking said vessels or other objects of interest.

The key deliverable described by the MCA is "to address and remove regulatory issues and barrier to Beyond Visual Line of Sight flight in unsegregated and uncontrolled UK airspace". The winning bidder is expected to deal with regulators like the Civil Aviation Authority and National Air Traffic Systems to make this possible.

Cheekily, the MCA also suggested bidders might like to offer resources beyond the value of the contract because of the potential for a significant later contract.

The contract will run until March 2021 or until enough information has been gathered – there is no minimum number of flights set. ®

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