GRAND CHALLENGE WINNERS START FINAL SELECTION PROCESS
14 Aug 08. Flying saucers, buggies and miniature helicopters descend on Salisbury plain for MoD competition.
A range of mini-vehicles that could help give UK forces the
battle-winning edge on operations are set to take part in the final
of a major MoD science and technology competition.
The “Grand Challenge”, launched by the MoD in 2006, asked teams from
across the UK to devise highly autonomous vehicles capable of
identifying threats that are being encountered by UK troops on
overseas operations. These include marksmen, vehicles mounted with
heavy weapons, roadside bombs and armed militia.
Twenty-three teams applied to enter the competition in May 2007.
Fourteen were selected to start the competition, and eleven survived
to start the final in August 2008. Teams are continuing to be
rigorously tested on Salisbury Plain to ensure that they are safe to
progress to the final competition days.
Minister for Defence Equipment and Support, Baroness Taylor said:
“The Grand Challenge is one of a number of MoD initiatives to develop
new defence technologies. The UK has a world class track-record in
scientific excellence, and we want to draw on all of the expertise
that is out there- from box room inventors just starting out, to the
largest defence firms.
“The competition has been designed to provide an accessible and fun
event for participants, but there is a very serious point to it. That
is, that the threats faced by our Armed Forces are continually
evolving, and exploiting the latest technologies will help them stay
safe and ahead of the opposition.”
Competing individually, each team will have one hour to send their
flying and ground vehicles into Copehill Down, a village on Salisbury
Plain specially built by the military for urban warfare training. A
team of judges will award points for the performance of the vehicles
in identifying threats and relaying the information back to team
members via sophisticated communications systems – with actors and
props stretching teams to the limit by blurring the lines between
innocent bystanders and armed militia.
The MoD is funding six of the teams – which comprise 17 small and
medium enterprises, seven universities and two schools – to open up
the competition to the broadest range of participants from across the
country. The other five teams have entered with their own funding.
The winner of the competition will be awarded the RJ Mitchell Trophy
– named after the designer of the Spitfire aeroplane which earned
legendary status for its role in the Battle of Britain. The trophy is
made from aluminium alloy from one of the few remaining Spitfire. In
addition, prizes will be awarded for the “most innovative idea” and
“best use of national talent”.
At the end of the competition, the MoD will carefully consider if
technologies demonstrated in the final can be incorporated into
future frontline kit for the Armed Forces. It is possible that the
winning team will have invented a product that can be developed
rapidly for the front line; it is also possible that no single system
will offer the perfect solution to the problems faced in theatre
today. Therefore, MoD may consider elements of a number of systems if
it is believed they could offer rapid technical solutions for the
The eleven teams who progressed to the start of the competition
Barnard Microsystems: A small London-based business owned by Dr Joe
Barnard, using model helicopters as unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) to
scout and relay information to a ground control station.
Cortex: Sponsored by QinetiQ, this team of graduates and recently
qualified engineers has designed a two-rotor, highly maneuverable and
lightweight winged unmanned air vehicle capable of vertical take-off,
landing and hovering.
Team I-Spy: Students from Middlesex University will be competing with
a light weight ‘tr