The UK government Ministry of Defence (MoD) is exploring the possible use of drones as a means to resupply soldiers on the front line.
As part of an Innovation Autonomy Challenge – a joint UK/US initiative to develop innovative defence technologies – the MoD has invested £3 million in a Defence and Security Accelerator.
Through the accelerator, the MoD is challenging industry and academia to come up with novel proposals that use autonomous systems to deliver mission critical supplies across difficult terrain and through inclement weather to front-line troops.
Led by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), the MoD said it is looking to learn from the rapid progress of the private sector in the development of delivery drones and automated deliveries to deliver combat supplies, reduce the risk to troops and improve efficiency.
The likes of retail giant Amazon have been trialing drone delivery technology in the UK, while the Swiss postal service recently completed the first inner city drone delivery of medical supplies.
Engineers now have two months to share their ideas. Funding for the challenge will include an initial £1.5 million to develop platforms and technology concepts, with the second £1.5 million being released at a later stage to “build and test a smaller number of demonstrators”. Successful applicants will then be included in joint UK/US trials from October 2018.
The Dstl lead for the Innovation Autonomy Challenge Peter Stockel said “We are particularly keen to reach out and encourage organizations that might not have worked with the defence and security sector before, such as those developing commercial driverless vehicles, drone delivery services and robotic agriculture, to get involved with the challenge and help us rapidly advance the way we deliver tactical military logistics.”
The competition runs until 21 June 2017 and further details of the competition can be found on the competition website.
The Challenge is the latest stage in the MoD’s investment in unmanned and autonomous systems. In February, the Defence Secretar Sir Michael Fallon announced the launch of a two-year £8 million second phase of research and development with Leonardo Helicopters, exploring the future of unmanned air systems.
Minister for Defence Procurement, Harriett Baldwin said that “Making sure we use the latest technology to keep our personnel safe and have the kit they need is a key part of our £800 million innovation fund. We’re challenging industry and academia to work with us to design ground-breaking autonomous systems that will get supplies to the front line.
“Our investment in innovative solutions demonstrates how the Government’s £178 billion equipment plan, supported by a rising Defence budget, will ensure that the UK maintains its military advantage in an increasingly dangerous world.”
The £800 million Defence Innovation Fund aims to “encourage imagination, ingenuity and entrepreneurship” in the development of everything from laser weapons to autonomous vehicles.