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Robots to swarm English village in huge contest

U.K. Ministry of Defense is sponsoring its version of the DARPA Challenge this summer, with robot teams scouting out potential dangers.

Swarm Systems will enter autonomous quadrotor micro air vehicles weighing less than 2 pounds. Swarm Systems

A village in England will host a robot hide-and-seek exercise next month, when 11 teams drawn from private companies and universities compete to sniff out snipers, roadside bombs, and other hidden dangers while relaying real-time images to a command post.

The MOD Grand Challenge, as it's called, is billed as the U.K. Ministry of Defense's counterpart to the U.S. DARPA Challenges, except it's military robots that compete against one another instead of robotic cars.

The purpose is to boost development of small robot teams capable of scouting out and alerting troops to potentially dangerous surprises on the urban battlefield. The robots must autonomously negotiate complex, unfamiliar terrain and urban clutter to locate the threats. Points are earned based on the number of threats uncovered in one hour. Points are lost if a team resorts to remote control to maneuver its bots at any stage.

One team, Stellar Consortium, will employ two unmanned aerial vehicles equipped with thermal, visual, and radar sensors to provide surveillance of the village. The data will then be used to direct a small robot on the ground.

The Swarm Systems team will field eight battery-powered, GPS-guided, Frisbee-sized, propeller-driven micro air vehicles (MAVs) called "Owls." These airborne bots hover and dart like birds while communicating with one other and a base station using Wi-Fi.

The highest-scoring team gets a shot at a lucrative MOD contract and a chance to see its system put to work in Afghanistan or southern Iraq.