MoD seeks ideas for autonomous systems in conflict environments - £4m up for grabs

Profile picture for user ddpreez By Derek du Preez August 15, 2019
The MoD is interested in the application of unmanned, autonomous and semi-autonomous systems across many military and civilian operations.

Image of a futuristic autonomous army robot

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has launched a new competition through its Defence and Security Accelerator, which aims to seek ideas that can provide a “step change” in the capability of unmanned autonomous military systems to operate in challenging environments. 

The competition note states that £4 million of funding is up for grabs and that it aims to “identify and develop underpinning research and technologies to support the development and fielding of unmanned systems across defence”. 

Unmanned, autonomous and semi-autonomous systems across challenging environments has been a strong focus for the British government in recent months. diginomica/government recently reported on the findings of an investment trip coordinated by Innovate UK out to the USA to help British businesses that focus on unmanned and autonomous systems secure deals in America. 

The competition outline for prospective applicants states:  

Unmanned, autonomous and semi-autonomous systems have potential applications across many military capability areas and civilian operations and are expected to be increasingly deployed by the UK Armed Forces over the next few decades. 

Many autonomous systems have been developed and optimised in ideal conditions. However, future military operations are anticipated to be in environments that are challenging both from a physical and electromagnetic (EM) perspective, affecting the efficiency and effectiveness of current autonomy technologies. 

Consequently, there is a need for technologies to enhance the performance of autonomous systems in challenging environments to support future military operations.

What’s the scope? 

The competition document states that it is seeking technologies that support autonomous, unmanned or semi-autonomous vehicles/systems in challenging environments that include: 

  • high winds (such as gust effects and urban turbulence)
  • heavy precipitation (such as rain, snow, blizzards and icing)
  • high dynamic range illumination (including changes to UV, and night vision)
  • water dynamics (such as currents and visibility)
  • temperature (such as temperature extremes and fluctuations between extremes)
  • sudden and enduring pressure or acoustic extremes underwater
  • intense flashes of light (including infrared and ultraviolet)
  • variable salinity
  • dense vegetation (including flora and fauna)
  • extreme and diverse terrains (such as variability in traction and elevation)
  • high-obstacle environments (such as within caves and buildings)
  • congested and contested EM environments (including radio frequency (RF) emissions)
  • GPS denied environments

The MoD wants unmanned systems that can operate independently for long periods and/or over long ranges, and priority will be given to ideas that will have a low impact on size, weight and power. 

It also states that it is seeking technologies that are able to establish and maintain local situational and self awareness in adverse environmental conditions; to maintain the freedom of mobility as conditions deteriorate; and the ability to effectively integrate humans, AI and robotics into military systems (human-machine teams). 

Next steps

Those interested in applying for the funding must apply by 10th October at midday via the Accelerator service and each individual proposal cannot exceed £100,000. If successful, contracts will be awarded for a duration of 6 months. 

Additional funding is expected to be available for further phases. 

Full details of the competition can be found here