X-Factory

Earlier this year, The Engineer looked forward to this summer’s MoD Grand Challenge: a military technology talent contest in which teams of engineers will vie for the chance to shape the battlefield of the future.


It is, we said at the time, a somewhat surprising avenue for the usually cloak-and-dagger world of military research and an intriguing way of engaging engineers on projects that may be outside their usual remit.


Clearly chuffed with the way it’s shaping up, and keen to see how else it can employ the talent contest formula, the ministry last week announced that it’s to establish a centre for defence enterprise where inventors, scientists and academics will join forces with private investors and develop new defence technologies to aid the armed forces.


In an echo of the BBC’s Dragon’s Den television show, applicants will submit proposals during regular seminars at the centre (based at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire) and the most innovative proposals will be taken forward as research contracts.


It’s a great idea, and will almost certainly furnish the MoD with technologies that it may not have thought about before whilst simultaneously providing UK innovators with an enticing new route to market.


The MoD claims that it is merely mimicking what already happens elsewhere in the world of commercial science parks and incubators. But in appropriating ideas from beyond the military realm, The Engineer would suggest that the MoD may have inadvertently refined and improved upon the existing commercial models.


For many small companies the process of seeking funding and investment through business incubators can be a bewildering process. Give the UK’s small and innovative engineering companies a more clearly defined challenge and the results could be very interesting indeed. And, as we argued earlier in the year, there’s no reason why the defence industry should be the only beneficiary of the ‘talent contest’ formula.



Jon Excell, features editor