July 18, 2006 7:21 AM PDT

Robot spy planes get government boost

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The British government plans to spend 16 million pounds--about $28 million--on the development of robot aircraft that could be used for police and fire surveillance.

The government said that development of unstaffed craft could "revolutionize" police and fire surveillance, as well as powerline and pipeline inspections--all of which currently rely on human-flown aircraft.

The investment will support a $57.9 million project called Autonomous Systems Technology Related Airborne Evaluation and Assessment, or Astraea.

The project will develop existing technology, regulations, systems and procedures, with the aim of bringing unstaffed vehicles into routine operation in U.K. airspace.

Alistair Darling, the U.K. Trade and Industry secretary, said the Astraea project will position the U.K. among the leaders in unstaffed aerial vehicle technology. Simon Jewell, chairman of the steering board for the Astraea consortium, said it will open up a "new era of aerospace."

Steve Ranger of Silicon.com reported from London.

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