The UK defense ministry has awarded three companies contracts to accelerate autonomous capability that could be used to safely deliver mission-critical supplies to troops engaged in combat territory known as the ‘last mile’.
UK-based Horiba Mira and Marlborough Comms Ltd, as well as Israel-based Rafael received £3 million (approx. US$4M) each to accelerate the development of their unmanned ground vehicles to try and meet further challenges set by the British Army.
The British Army tasked the Future Capability Group (FCG) at DE&S with investigating potential solutions for autonomous ‘last mile supply’ – the delivery of combat supplies crucial to operational success in combat zones.
This work followed a first stage investigation by the Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA) and Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl).
Under Project Theseus, it is hoped the use of self-driving air or ground platforms to deliver supplies, including ammunition, clothes, food and fuel, will reduce the need for personnel to risk their life by entering into what are typically hostile environments.
As well as vehicles, FCG see the essential inclusion of dynamic autonomous processing, ordering and delivering fuels, foodstuff and other stores so that troops to have the ‘ease of an Amazon style delivery service’ where they need it most.
“Our team used a dynamic commercial approach to stimulate industry and draw in over 50 companies who have key technologies in this area. They then worked with pace and agility to identify three suppliers offering potential solutions from a vast amount of industry specialists,” James Gavin, Head FCG at DE&S, said.
“Robotic and autonomous system capabilities will play an increasing role in delivering deployed sustainment in the near-future; doing so will increase combat power through increasing mass and tempo of resupply, as well as reducing risk-to-life for our people, leading to an increased probability of mission success,” Major Matt McGarvey-Miles, SO2C Robotic and Autonomous Systems, Future Force Development added.
Project Theseus, a two-year Defence Transformation Fund project, is also exploiting the innovation, findings and technology demonstrator investigations delivered by the Dstl Autonomous Last Mile Re-Supply (ALMRS) project. Under Theseus the British Army are exploring using robotic dogs to support troops in dangerous and complex urban environments. The platforms would be used to navigate rough terrain, help deliver supplies in war zones and investigate bombs, significantly reducing the risk to personnel.