ROBOTICS AND AUTONOMOUS SYSTEMS
U.K. Army Seeks 'Amazon-Like' Delivery Systems for Troops in the Field
Concept: Defence Science and Technology Laboratory
LONDON — The United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence is moving ahead with new technology aimed at safely resupplying troops on the front lines, said the nation’s minister for defense procurement Sept. 14.
In April, Harriett Baldwin announced a new challenge aimed at industry to find better ways to resupply troops.
“I laid down the gauntlet to industry. I asked them to pioneer new ways to get vital supplies to soldiers in that most dangerous of environments — the last mile to the front line,” she said during remarks at the Defence and Security Equipment International Conference held at the ExCel in London.
More than 140 organizations submitted entries to the ministry's Defence Science and Technology Laboratory and its Defence and Security Accelerator for the ‘Last Mile’ challenge, she said.
Out of those, 25 projects were chosen from the U.K. and worldwide, she said. “Their winning ideas … [include] robotic ground vehicles, Uber-like delivery apps, and novel unmanned aerial vehicles including autonomous hover bikes.”
Companies who won include BAE Systems, QinetiQ, Animal Dynamics, RED Scientific, Pearson Engineering, Steelrock UAV Solutions, Marble Aerospace Ltd., Blue Bear, Horiba Mira and Barnard Microsystems, among others.
The winners will share a pot of almost $2.7 million “to take their ideas off the drawing table and quickly get them into field testing with our army and our allies,” Baldwin said.
“These pioneers will now help us build the military-equivalent of the Amazon-style delivery service,” she said. “They’ll resupply our front line troops with everything from ammunition to food and water, to spares, medical supplies and extra combat clothing.”
The $2.7 million will go toward the first six-month phase of the effort, said a press release from the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory. Afterward, a yearlong phase will commence which will require winners to produce a demonstrator. Prototypes will be tested in October of 2018 as part of the U.K. army’s warfighter experiment known as “Autonomous Warrior (Land).” The systems could also be tested in the United States, the press release said.
Meanwhile, Baldwin emphasized the need for U.K. companies to consider baking exportability into their products from the start. The topic was a common theme during the DSEI show, and one that Sir Michael Fallon, the U.K.’s secretary of defence, touched on during his keynote speech at the conference.
Baldwin said: “We’re now putting the onus on exportability. … The approach we’re taking here [is] to build exportability into our thinking. Considering the needs of other potential buyers right at the very outset must become the rule rather than the exception.”
To achieve this goal, the government is working to make the export process more streamlined for companies, she said.
“Inside or outside defense, we want it to be easy to do business with us,” she said. “So today I can announce that we are launching our defense suppliers portal. … It will make doing business with defense much more straightforward.”
Already the defense ministry has made the process simpler, she said. It has removed the once required pre-qualification questionnaire and it has adopted a standard contract template, she noted.
Additionally, a “forthcoming refreshed industrial policy will outline the further steps we’re taking to make it easier for companies to do business with" the organization, she said.