Press release

Tech Secretary strips back red tape to unleash innovation in clean aviation, drones and autonomous marine tech

Plans to revamp the regulatory environment around key technologies have been announced by Science and Tech Secretary, at the Global Investment Summit.

  • Plans to revamp the regulatory environment around key technologies have been announced by Science and Tech Secretary, at the Global Investment Summit
  • the UK will pioneer experimental, pro-innovation approaches to regulation for zero emission aviation, drones, and autonomous marine tech
  • 29 new investors also announced for partnership unlocking funding for UK science and tech SMEs

New plans for the safe, proportionate regulation of high-potential technologies like clean aviation, and drones, as well as a boost to the government’s investor partnership programme for high potential UK science and tech businesses, have been announced at the Global Investment Summit today (Monday 27 November) by the Science and Technology Secretary.

Following on from the announcement of new regulatory sandboxes at the Autumn Statement, three further sandboxes and testbeds will help UK firms and researchers developing hydrogen as a zero emission fuel for aviation, as well as exploring the use of drones in passenger transport and deliveries, plus putting self-piloting marine tech to work. The sandboxes and testbeds will see innovators and regulators work together to safely test new technologies. Taking this flexible, pragmatic approach to regulation can help to reduce barriers for innovators and help regulators to improve their decision-making processes.

The government’s ambition to unlock greater investment in UK R&D is taking a further step forward, with the naming of 29 new partners to the Investor Partnerships programme. Previous investor partnership programmes unlocked more than £370 million in private partner backing. Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT), through Innovate UK, is investing over £110 million together with private investors to drive vital cash into scaling-up UK businesses that are putting game changing technologies into action to tackle some of the world’s most pressing challenges, from climate change to healthcare.

Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology Michelle Donelan said:

“From the steam engine and Jenner’s first vaccine, through to modern computers and the wonder-material graphene, brilliant British ideas have and continue to change the world. The untold story behind each of these breakthroughs is that of the investors, whose backing enabled genius ideas to spring to life out of the lab, and into the world.

“We know that unlocking investment is critical, if we are to seize the potential for science and tech breakthroughs to create new jobs and industries, grow the economy, and tackle problems from health to energy. That is precisely why we are deepening our links with private investors to help UK businesses scale-up, deepening the UK’s skills base, and working with the sector to build proportionate regulations that encourage innovation, and keep people safe.”

Game-changing new technologies and scientific innovations are front and centre at the Global Investment Summit, which is showcasing the pioneering companies across the country that make the UK one of the world’s most attractive investment destinations. They range from established global giants with significant presences in the UK, like Alphabet and Arm, to exciting newer businesses like Oxford Quantum Circuits and Birmingham University spin-out, Delta-G.

The expansion of the Innovate UK Investor Partnership Programme, working with investors such as Amadeus Capital and Anglo-American, is the government’s latest push to bring innovative small and medium-sized UK companies together with investors, to support them to take their businesses to the next level. The 15 investor partnership programmes that ran between 2017 and 2022 unlocked £42.8 million in grant funding for UK SMEs, £123 million in aligned equity investment, and a further £373 million in additional investment from private partners.

The government is deploying regulatory sandboxes as part of its commitment to seize the potential for frontier technologies like AI to create entirely new industries and jobs. It is essential to strike the right balance: regulation that is pro-innovation, stimulates demand for science and technology and attracts investment, while representing UK values and safeguarding citizens.

It follows the announcement of the Automated Vehicles Bill in the King’s Speech this month, to put safety at the heart of the roll-out of self-driving vehicle technology – ensuring smarter regulation and positioning the UK as world-leaders of a £42 billion industry.

Notes to editors

Details of the three regulatory sandboxes being funded through the Regulators’ Pioneer Fund (RPF), which supports UK regulators and local authorities to adopt new and experimental regulatory approaches that seek to remove barriers to innovation and help businesses get their innovative products and services to market. For more information contact

Civil Aviation Authority – hydrogen (sandbox)

The UK Civil Aviation Authority has launched a challenge, including a sandbox, to understand the regulatory requirements for the introduction of hydrogen as a zero-carbon aviation fuel. This aligns with the government’s Jet Zero Strategy of delivering net zero UK aviation by 2050.

The CAA will engage internationally to share outcomes of the challenge. Through direct engagement with other regulators, the World Economic Forum and the Commonwealth, we will be able to influence global approaches to hydrogen developments.

The launch of the challenge was announced in November with the regulatory sandbox open as of today, to take part in this sandbox challenge and help improve understanding of hydrogen-related risks in aviation.

Plymouth City Council - autonomous marine technology (testbed)

Plymouth City Council’s project is developing an evidence base and a regulatory framework for testing autonomous and prototype vessels for R&D. This includes establishing economic benefits of new regulations, engaging with port authorities and regulators internationally to examine how their regulations work and road-testing proposed new regulations on real vessels.

The project will be led by Plymouth City Council (PCC), in partnership with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), University of Plymouth (UoP), University of Exeter (UoE) and Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML).

The University of Exeter are interested in inviting businesses to take part in their user group in ventures of testing and demonstration taking place next year and the University of Plymouth are keen to invite businesses to visit and take part in the demonstration of autonomous marine technology.

Milton Keynes City Council – drones (testbed)

Milton Keynes City Council will work with Cranfield University’s Drone Innovation Hub and Satellite Applications Catapult Westcott DronePort to prove, trial, test and demonstrate new drone-based services that operate alongside our robotics delivery services and self-driving passenger shuttles. This includes a testbed that allows for ongoing experimentation.

This project will help inform Milton Keynes on how to deploy services in the city and has led to the trialling of self-driving bus, announced this month, as part of a Europe-wide research project.

The 29 new investors joining the Innovate UK Investor Partnership Programme are:

  • Oxford Technology Management Ltd
  • Maven Capital Partners UK LLP
  • Angels@Essex
  • Baltic Ventures Ltd
  • Green Angel Syndicate 2 Ltd
  • Ebico Ltd
  • Fearless Adventures (Investments) LLP
  • Hiro Capital LLP
  • The Conduit Connect Ltd
  • Archangel Investors Ltd
  • Deeptech Seed Fund
  • Twin Path Ventures Ltd
  • Anticus Partners Ltd
  • Cambridge Angels Group Ltd
  • London Venture Partners LLP
  • Astanor Ventures
  • Concept VC Ltd
  • Angel Academe Ltd
  • Cambridge Enterprise Ltd
  • Eos Advisory LLP
  • Two Magnolias G.P. LLP
  • Counteract Partners Ltd
  • Extantia Capital
  • Deepbridge Capital LLP
  • FOV Fund Management Oy
  • Creative UK Holdings Ltd
  • Earth Capital Ltd
  • Noba Cap Advisers Ltd
  • Carbon13 Group Ltd
Published 27 November 2023