Futuristic drones and unmanned robots with autonomous ‘deliver to order’ capability could provide front-line military logistics support say the MoD.
In a new cross-government collaboration, the Ministry of Defence (MOD), the Department for International Development (DFID) and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) are working together on turning cutting-edge designs for drones and robots into reality.
Experts from the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) are leading the partnership as part of MOD’s Innovation Autonomy Challenge, with joint competition funding from MOD, DFID and UKRI being placed through the Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA).
This is the second phase of the competition say the MoD, which will build prototypes for initial demonstration this year, and is worth a total of £3.8m over the next 12 months. Four of the five successful organisations are British-led, with a wide range of sub-contractors from small and medium enterprises, industry and academia.
Winning systems concepts include autonomous hoverbikes, powered paragliders and other unmanned air vehicles, operating alongside self-driving ground vehicles to deliver supplies across difficult, and potentially contested, terrain.
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said:
“Defence makes an unrivalled investment in science and technology, creating thousands of highly-skilled jobs and brilliant career opportunities, generating billions for the UK economy.
This Autonomous Last Mile competition has seen next-generation concepts from unmanned hoverbikes to powered paragliders come to life.
And they could be saving troops’ lives on the battlefield in years to come. I congratulate all those involved in the competition as they ensure our military remain ahead of our adversaries.”
Phase 2 has selected 5 bids, led by Animal Dynamics Ltd, Barnard Microsystems Ltd, Fleetonomy, HORIBA MIRA, and Qinetiq, to build prototypes systems for initial testing and evaluation this autumn:
- Animal Dynamics with a system featuring novel autonomous powered paragliders;
- Barnard Microsystems Ltd with Cranfield University developing a vertical take-off and landing unmanned air vehicle-based system;
- Fleetonomy with Thales, Thesigers, Avartek & Callen Lenz to provide a system to demonstrate autonomous networked unmanned deliveries in the urban and other environments;
- Horiba Mira with Frazer Nash Consultancy featuring a highly autonomous all-terrain unmanned ground vehicle using artificial intelligence to provide GPS-denied navigation, advanced terrain perception and object recognition;
- QinetiQ with Hull University, Malloy Aeronautics, MilRem Robotics, Roke Manor Research, Oxbotica, IQHQ Ltd & Aberystwyth University offering an integrated highly-automated logistic system, featuring autonomous hoverbikes and advanced unmanned ground vehicles.
Peter Stockel, Dstl’s lead for the Innovation Autonomy Challenge, said:
“We’re particularly pleased that we’re able to take the next step on this important journey in partnership with DFID and UKRI, as part of our innovation initiative. Working together we can collectively make the best use of the resources available for the most promising proposals and this is good joining together of important government interests and investment. It increases our options across similar requirements and offers a broader range of potential routes to market for this rapidly developing technology area where the UK has world-class expertise and innovation.”
For future frontline military operations, the technology could reduce risk to soldiers by removing them from the hazards of frontline logistics resupply and improving the pace of operations.