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By Julian Nettlefold, Editor, BATTLESPACE

30 Jul 07. Given his background as an entrepreneur and a PhD in robotics, Lord Drayson appears more comfortable and enthused when talking about technology and R&D rather than the grander issues off overall MoD Policy. He is supported in this role by the soft speaking but highly effective MoD Government Chief Scientific Adviser Professor Sir Roy Anderson.

This joint enthusiasm for the promotion of defence technology to a wider audience of intellectuals in the University and schools segment, as practiced as a matter of course in the USA, is a major platform for the MoD.

Major General John Cooper, Director General Land Support opened the proceedings giving an outline of the problems facing the military with regard to increased urbanization in the future.

“In the 1950s two thirds of the world population lived in rural areas, by 2030, this will be reversed with the same number living in urban environments. To tackle this scenario with regard to urban military operations, we need to replicate these environments at our training areas in the UK, Poland, Canada, the Middle East and Arizona. We are currently building a replica of an Asia urban scenario at BATUS in Canada. The increased threats we face come from snipers, IEDs and small arms. We will demonstrate today some scenarios which require solutions from the Grand Challenge.”

The MoD today announced an additional £10m for research at an event at Copehill Down to introduce the finalists in the MoD Grand Challenge. The results of the MoD Competition of Ideas were also revealed.

The Grand Challenge is a major science and technology competition to find new ideas to counter the threats faced daily by our Armed Forces. It also offers a unique opening into the UK defence market for new suppliers and investors. Both the Grand Challenge and the Competition of Ideas are key drivers of the MoD’s Defence Technology Strategy.

Introducing the finalists, Lord Drayson, Minister of State for Defence Equipment and Support said: “Both the Grand Challenge and the Competition of Ideas are putting the Defence Technology Strategy into action. I now want to extend their success of wider engagement, greater innovation and, in particular, delivery at speed by introducing new Research Concept Demonstrators. These programmes of fixed duration will allow the MoD to quickly assess concepts with practical and tangible evidence. Not all ideas will succeed but those that do will be in a better state to transfer quickly to our forces. We will start with two pilot demonstrators of approximately £5m each, focused on our high priority areas.”

“I am delighted to announce the shortlist of finalists. The specific challenge they face is to create a robotic system that can find and identify threats in an urban environment.”

23 teams applied to enter the MoD Grand Challenge. These ranged from established Defence contractors to universities and small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). The announcement of the teams included those who have received funding from the MoD.

Lord Drayson continued, “The Grand Challenge as an opportunity for young minds, for growing businesses, for entrepreneurs and for financiers. I hope that forward looking teams are already thinking about approaching investors.”

The teams viewed the urban training facility at Copehill Down where final judging of their ideas will take place. The MoD also displayed a collection of “foreign” weapons at the event, along with a Desert Hawk UAV which displayed current reconnaissance capability. An infantry section also demonstrated urban reconnaissance techniques.

The Competition of Ideas has attracted more than 450 proposals (half from universities and SMEs). All proposals have been assessed and 66 contracts are to be placed. There has been a strong response from the UK science and technology base and the MoD is now investing £11.5m into the competitio

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