Vehicle wars

A range of mini-vehicles that could help give UK forces the battle-winning edge on operations is set to take part in the final of a major MoD science and technology competition this weekend.

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.

23 teams applied to enter the competition in May 2007. 14 were selected to start the competition, and 11 survived to start the final in August 2008.

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 using sophisticated communications systems. Actors and props will stretch 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. 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.

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. She said: ‘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.’