Robotic trio wins MoD Grand Challenge

A lineup of three different robots helped Team Stellar collect the RJ Mitchell Trophy in the UK Ministry of Defence’s Grand Challenge competition.

Team Stellar used its Saturn robots – a pair of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) – and an unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) working under the control of a system that merged data from their visual, thermal and radar sensors to try to find threats in a fake village on Salisbury Plain.

The Grand Challenge competition, launched by the MoD in 2006, asked teams to come up with highly autonomous flying and ground vehicles capable of identifying threats such as marksmen, vehicles mounted with heavy weapons, roadside bombs and armed militia.

Out of twenty-three teams who originally applied to the competition, seven qualified for the final held over the last three days at Copehill Down, a village on Salisbury Plain specially built by the military for urban warfare training. Vehicles designed and created by the teams included flying saucers, buggies and mini-helicopters

Team Stellar was awarded the highest points of any team by a panel of judges, after their vehicles successfully identified a range of threats planted in the village and recreated by actors dressed as militia.

Stellar team leader Julia Richardson said: “I am extremely pleased, we are thrilled, we worked very hard and it is a fantastic result.”

Team Swarm was awarded the prize for the most innovative idea for its mini-helicopters, named Owls, capable of flying in swarms, allowing them to view the area from all angles using high resolution visual cameras. Team Thales was awarded a prize for best use of national talent for their use of a mini-helicopter fitted with daylight and thermal imagers alongside two custom built ground vehicles.

The MoD is now considering if technologies demonstrated in the final can be incorporated into future front-line kit for the Armed Forces. The MoD may consider elements of a number of systems if it is believed they could offer rapid technical solutions for the front line.

Minister for defence equipment and support, Baroness Ann Taylor said: “We are proud to crown Team Stellar the winners of [the] MoD's most prestigious competition for battlefield innovators. They follow in the footsteps of RJ Mitchell, a great British inventor who pushed back the frontiers of science to develop the prototype of the Spitfire. It is this type of vision and dedication which makes the United Kingdom a world leader in science and technology.

“The Grand Challenge has proven a showcase for the wealth of talent that exists in the UK - not just in large defence firms, but in universities, schools and even garden sheds across the nation.”

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