SWARMS of drones could be dispatched to fight fires and deliver humanitarian aid as a result of a Southampton project being given a slice of a £30million government investment.

The Windracers SWARM project will develop technology for enabling multiple drones to fly in close formations.

It is one of 20 winners to receive a total of more than £7m through the first wave of the government’s Future Flight Challenge.

The government hopes its investment in aviation technology of the future will help with major global challenges including the response to the coronavirus pandemic and climate change.

Business and industry minister Nadhim Zahawi said: “Former home of Supermarine, the manufacturer of the iconic Spitfire plane, Southampton continues to play host to innovative aviation projects, including the development of drones able to fight fires and deliver humanitarian aid in remote areas.

“Ambitious projects like these ensure the UK is able to build back better after the pandemic. I look forward to seeing these pioneering drones take flight.”

Windracers Distributed Avionics, based in Southampton and Bristol, will develop swarming technology, an approach to coordinate multiple robots to allow drones to fly in close formations and work together.

Windracers’ ULTRA unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is already being tested to transport Covid-19 medical supplies to the Isle of Wight.

It is a large, double-engine, fixed wing drone with a carrying capacity of up to 100kg, making it unique in the drone market.

Swarm software builds on the ability of UAVs to react to their environment and to neighbouring drones without having to coordinate through a central control station.

By the end of the project, Windracers intends to produce a “proof of concept flight” with five drones.

The project brings Windracers together with Southampton’s Distributed Avionics, experts in avionics and flight control software, and University of Bristol’s expertise in “swarm engineering”.

Transport minister Rachel Maclean said: “The UK is already a world-leader when it comes to innovation in aviation and this funding will allow us to carry on supporting the extraordinary work taking place right across the country.

“Innovation delivers real change and our support for dynamic ideas in this exciting sector means we are now seeing real life solutions, like the drone delivery of Covid-19 medical supplies, for challenges such as public health and climate change.”