The grandest challenge

A range of weird and wonderful autonomous vehicles has recently taken part in the final of a major MoD science and technology competition - The Grand Challenge.

Teams from across the UK were tasked with devising highly autonomous vehicles capable of identifying threats encountered by UK troops on overseas operations. These include marksmen, vehicles mounted with heavy weapons, roadside bombs and armed militia.

Twenty-three teams applied to enter the competition in May 2007 and 11 reached the final. 

"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," said Minister for Defence Equipment and Support, Baroness Taylor.

Teams had 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 awarded points for vehicles identifying threats and relaying the information back to teams via sophisticated communications systems - with actors and props stretching teams to the limit by blurring the lines between innocent bystanders and armed militia.

The winner of the competition was Team Stellar, which was awarded the RJ Mitchell Trophy - named after the designer of the Spitfire aeroplane which earned legendary status for its role in the Battle of Britain. The trophy is made from aluminium alloy from one of the few remaining Spitfires. In addition, prizes were awarded for the most innovative idea and the best use of national talent.

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