Mobile plant helps keep soldiers out of harm’s way25 August 2020

UK MOD Crown Copyright 2018

The Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA) has awarded contracts worth a total £1.3m to develop semi-autonomous reconnaissance and survey systems to help troops safely and stealthily advance into enemy territory across water obstacles such as rivers.

Map the Gap, run on behalf of the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), sought ideas from industry and academia to create a new remote system capable of surveying potential crossing sites by gathering data about the river banks.

Colonel Simon Bradley, assistant head manoeuvre support, ground manoeuvre capability British Army, said: “The reconnaissance of multiple potential crossing sites at the forward edge of the battle exposes soldiers to significant risk. Replacing and/or augmenting manned reconnaissance with a remote, beyond line-of-sight system will not only reduce the threat to life; it will also offer the ability to survey multiple crossing sites in a far more timely and efficient manner.”

The military need to be able to cross obstacles such as rivers, streams, bogs and other so-called ‘wet gaps’. Currently, the only way of identifying suitable crossing points is to send Royal Engineer reconnaissance troops to survey both banks of the river – exposing them to danger, which also risks compromising the operation by signalling interest in that location to the enemy.

It says: “Our vision is ultimately to remove personnel from these dangerous tasks with a remote system that allows more crossing locations to be surveyed, increasing the choices available to commanders and giving an opportunity to surprise the enemy.”

Five small and medium-sized businesses have been awarded Phase 1 funding to fast-track their innovative solutions and test with the British Army.

The organisations are:

Scytronix – whose proposal is for a drone-mountable crossing assessment system that uses novel low frequency electromagnetic scanning techniques (Funding offered: £251,000)

Wight Ocean – to develop an amphibious bottom crawler to navigate and transit water crossing to gather near real-time data for analysis (Funding offered: £309,000)

Nordic Unmanned AS – to demonstrate unmanned aerial systems sensors, and data exploitation, and a semi-autonomous capability for engineer reconnaissance (Funding offered: £273,000)

Foundry Cube in collaboration with Ultrabeam Hydrographic – to demonstrate an autonomous and amphibious hydrographic survey vehicle similar to a pedalo, using novel techniques tools and Sonar and Lidar (using laser light and measuring reflection). (Funding offered: £178,000).

Digital Concepts Engineering – to develop an unmanned ground vehicle (X2 ROV) and drone ‘team’ with a variety of sensors to gather, aggregate and present data (Funding offered: £331,000)

An additional £2.5m is anticipated for further development in Phase 2.

The last winner is working in a consortium with Frazer-Nash Consultancy (drone providers); and Eijkelkamp Geopoint SoilSolutions (ground sampling technology).

A key part of the solution is Jacobs’ 6th Sense data analytics system, wich processes data in real time, helping military engineers to understand how the riverbed, mudflats and banks will take the weight of a temporary bridge and armoured vehicles.

Jacobs and Digital Concepts Engineering first paired the 6th Sense data analytics system with an X2 ROV last year when they won a competition, funded by Innovate UK and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, to find new ways to decommission highly radioactive former reprocessing facilities at the Sellafield nuclear site.

Jacobs Critical Mission Solutions International senior vice president Clive White remarked: “We often borrow technology and techniques from other sectors to apply in the nuclear industry, so it is good to see this technology transfer process happening going in the opposite direction.”

William Dalrymple

Related Companies
Frazer-Nash Consultancy
Jacobs (UK) Ltd

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