Qinetiq, acting in partnership with 21 other organisations from industry, academia and the UK defence supply chain, has formed the MEMs Applications for Defence (MEAD) consortium.

MEAD’s remit is to take a new approach to developing Micro Electro Mechanical Systems (MEMS) technology for defence purposes in an MoD backed project worth £3.2m over three years.

The MEAD consortium will bring together organisations, including SMEs spanning systems integration and MEMS device supply with key groups from the world of academia and research. Initially, the MEAD consortium will road map the technology, explore exploitation routes and investigate novel MEMS approaches for use in two defence application areas.

Firstly, the MoD has a requirement for deployable, unattended sensor networks, and Qinetiq will lead this area. Here the need is for small, lightweight, minimal cost military grade sensors that remove the need for expert placement, alignment and recovery. Typically these sensors fall into four groups: robust, low noise, high sensitivity acoustic microphones; orientation sensors; seismic sensors; and magnetic sensors.

Secondly, there is a need to indicate the presence of explosives, so the MEAD Consortium will investigate techniques for sampling air and detecting compounds that warn of the proximity of an explosive device. Smiths Detection will lead this research package.

As part of its remit the consortium will also research the potential failure modes of MEMS devices. According to Qinetiq, this is a challenging topic given the vast range of device types under investigation, the spectrum of materials and processes used to realise them and the interaction between the MEMS device, and any packaging used to protect it from the environment.

Ed Swindle, MoD Research Acquisition Organisation commented: ‘This is a great opportunity for the MoD to foster innovation and co-operation across a broad supply base to access leading edge technology and accelerate its application in a new generation of MEMS devices that address real defence needs. This new partnership model is a key element in the continued process of defence research competition.’