MoD Defence Technology Plan: Robots and shockproof goop for playing army 2.0

At the Ministry of Defence we caught up with the latest robots, biodetectors and intelligent shock-absorbing gloop. We offer our own contribution to the future of warfare...


Richard Trenholm

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Crave headed for Whitehall yesterday to drop by the Ministry of Defence, where Minister for Defence Equipment and Support Quentin Davies announced £2m of funding for a selection of defence projects taking blowing people up into the 21st century.

The MoD is inviting academic institutions and small/medium enterprises (SMEs) to get in touch, with a view to involving smaller concerns in the technological future of the UK military. There are five areas the MoD wishes to invest in, known as capability visions and outlined at the science.mod.uk Web site. Visitors to the site can use the Future Defence Plan as a guide to what the MoD is interested in, and can find out how to send in speculative suggestions.

These kick off with lightening the load and increasing protection of those in dismounted close combat -- that's Our Brave Lads to you and me -- possibly with some kind of automated mule to carry packs. Then there's an unmanned aerial concept, defence against cyberwar, and a lightweight but well-protected land vehicle. Finally, as if those uniforms weren't green enough, the MoD aims to cut down on the ecological impact of the military. One per cent of the UK's CO2 emissions are from the armed forces, with about half of that from the Royal Air Force's planes. Interestingly, all RAF aircraft are already certified to run on synthetic fuels -- the problem is getting that synthetic fuel.

The projects benefitting from funding and showcased today began with Mindsheet, which has had a cash injection to toughen up its nippy little Testudo robot. Team Stellar has been awarded £1.3m for its SATURN unmanned aircraft system, d3o is getting cash to develop intelligent helmet liners, and Teledyne is working to conquer brown-out. Finally, Swarm Systems are working on a swarm of co-operative micro unmanned aircraft. Click through our photos to find out more about these assorted ways of supporting our troops through advanced geekery, and see our own speculative suggestion...

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And you can't even work the remote on your DVD player, you girl.
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This is d3o, a shock-absorbing material that can be moulded but goes hard on impact. The MoD is interested in making helmet liners from the stuff.
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d3o is stretchy and mouldable, but its intelligent molecules react to impact by locking together.
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Hand. Goopy armour stuff. Hammer. You see where this is going.
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Bang! Oof! d3o has already been used in sporting outfits such as the ski suits worn by the US and Canadian Winter Olympics teams.
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This is the Blue Bear Systems Mini Air Vehicle (BMAV), which is part of the Sensing Autonomous Tactical Urban Network (SATURN) developed by Team Stellar.
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As well as having a face and looking like ORAC off Blake's 7, the Portable Integrated Battlespace Bio-Detection unit spots biological weaponry threats in a portable form. Which is very clever indeed. Still, PIBBD? It's no SATURN, is it?
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Here, a real-life Chinook pilot demonstrates the difficulty of landing a helicopter in a dust cloud. This is known as 'brown-out', which sounds like the reaction we'd have if we found ourselves in an Afghan war zone. The dust problem is conquered by Teledyne's microwave radar, which gives the pilot a three-dimensional view of the ground beneath them.
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Now this is more in our wheelhouse. An Xbox controller tells the Testudo robot what to do.
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Here's a look under the bonnet of the Testudo. It'll hit 30 miles per hour and can outrun a pedestrian if it gets spotted and has to leg it.
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The Testudo is a scout robot that can be sent 300m ahead of a platoon to spot hairy situations and beam information back via Wi-Fi.
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The Testudo is undergoing field tests in March 2009, with production planned for sometime later in the year. Fingers crossed it'll be in Argos in time for Christmas, because we want one.
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Here's our speculative suggestion for the front lines. It's a multi-purpose, multi-role, multi-theatre, multimedia marvel. It's a submarine, a tank and a helicopter, and like Crave, it runs on bacon sandwiches and mojitos. Codename: SubmaTankiCopter!

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