United Kingdom-based drone pilots likely noticed a major update to their iOS and Android devices this week if they already had Altitude Angel’s Drone Assist flight planning app download. And if they didn’t already have it downloaded, now might finally me the time to do it.
Altitude Angel, which is based in Reading, United Kingdom and provides a range of airspace management data and services for drone manufacturers, developers and airspace stakeholders announced this month plans to consolidate all of its existing apps into one, single, Drone Assist app. It’s a move that brings app development back in-house and will — in theory — position the app to be bigger and better than ever.
This week, the company relaunched its Drone Assist flight planning app with a series of features set to enhance the user experience and to add a more robust set of industry-ready flight planning tools. Among the new improvements includes a direct connection to Altitude Angel’s UTM platform, offering ‘one-tap flight authorizations at connected airports and facilities not just within the UK, but worldwide.
And now that it’s being positioned as Altitude Angel’s flagship (and only) app, it’ll serve as an important initial gateway to a whole host of U-Space services offered by Altitude Angel and operated by its customers. Over the coming months, this new Drone Assist will replace all the company’s existing apps.
The new version of Drone Assist, began rolling out this week on both iOS and Android, and the company said it considers this to be the most extensive update since the app was first launched in 2016. Altitude Angel says the updates make the app more user-friendly and intuitive for novice pilots, whilst providing several business-critical services for more experienced and professional operators. Among the updates in the new Drone Assist app:
- Enhanced integrated flight planning.
- Advanced flight plan drawing tools.
- Improved approval services including the ability to use the app to request access to fly digitally in airspace such as an airport FRZ, or land with access restrictions.
- New map layers including satellite view.
- Enhanced airspace filter controls.
- Refreshed user experience and user interface.
In short, expect enhanced flight planning features all around. For example, Drone Assist now allows users to plan their flight, detailing exactly where they’ll be flying using the advanced drawing tools via either polygons or waypoints. They can then submit the flight plan to the app which is displayed not only on the app for all to see, but across all of Altitude Angel’s UTM platforms, including those used by airports and GA pilots – making other airspace users (even if they’re not Altitude Angel customers) aware of their presence.
In addition to enhanced integrated flight planning & drawing tools, Drone Assist also includes new ‘pilot profiles’ and aircraft management, which provides users with the ability to log drone operator profiles, hours flown, and airframe hours used. Those features could help professional drone operators better manage operations and airframe service intervals.
If you really want to geek out about what’s in the new Drone Assist app, Sean Hickey of the Geeksvana YouTube channel put together a 10-minute video explaining it all:
What is Drone Assist like today?
In general, Drone Assist is considered the top flight planning app for professional and recreational pilots within the UK. But that doesn’t mean it’s a perfect app. It’s been a bit — as Hickey calls it — “creaky.” In fact, the current Drone Assist UK app has a rough 3.7 out of 5 stars on the Google Play store, and an even more brutal 2.3 out of 5 stars on the Apple App store, all across hundreds of reviews.
Currently, it seems as though the app has potential but just doesn’t execute. As one reviewer put it, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Other readers cite that it’s hard to even just login and get setup and confusing buttons once you’re in.
With the new Drone Assist app, that might change. Expect it to consolidate features that had existed in what was previously a small family of apps.
For example, Altitude Angel also had two other apps, FlySafe and Guardian. Guardian was a free app that used your location to display nearby no-fly zones and ground hazards (as well as those in a growing number of countries around the world). Coverdrone FlySafe was a companion application for existing customers of Altitude Angel-partner Coverdrone to provide fast access to essential drone safety data whilst on the move.
Ahead of this week’s new rollout, Altitude Angel said it had been running a beta testing program with more than 400 active contributors who provided feedback which was incorporated into the app’s design and build.
And even though the app got a mega update this week, the company says this week’s update is only the first in a series of planned enhancements and new features in the immediate pipeline.
What is Altitude Angel?
Drone Assist is now the flagship app of Altitude Angel, which was founded in 2014 and builds UTM (Unified Traffic Management) software, designed to support drone pilots as they operate or develop UTM/U-Space solutions, allowing them to quickly integrate robust data and services with minimum effort.
Altitude Angel also has an open developer platform.
Altitude Angel is also leading a consortium of businesses to build and develop 165 miles (265km) of ‘drone superhighways’ connecting airspace above Reading, Oxford, Milton Keynes, Cambridge, Coventry, and Rugby over the next two years. That Skyway superhighway network project, which was announced in March 2022, uses Altitude Angel’s patented ARROW technology. That’s similar to the famous drone corridor in New York, though this one better democratizes BVLOS drone operations. Altitude Angel says that any drone company — as long as it completes a series of basic technical integrations (which don’t actually even require specialist hardware on-board the drone, to boot) — is supported.
And ultimately, Altitude Angel says it intends to make its drone superhighway technology available for any organization, airport, town, or city seeking to establish their own drone superhighways via a licensing agreement.