MoD announces 'Grand Challenge' tech-prize winner
Johnny 5 to tame Afghanistan in 2010?
Analysis The MoD has now announced the winner of its "Grand Challenge" technology competition, which ended yesterday. The winning Team Stellar used a ground-crawling robot and two flying ones to unmask a range of likely urban-combat threats.
"We are proud to crown Team Stellar the winners of MOD's most prestigious competition for battlefield innovators," said the minister for military kit, Baroness Ann Taylor.
Might possibly last ten minutes before being toppled by playful kids
"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. They have brought fresh, exciting ideas to the Defence table which could have battle-winning applications for our Armed Forces."
As it turned out, the Grand Challenge turned into a contest among robots, but this wasn't part of the rules. All the MoD wanted to see was a way of locating common threats - gunmen lurking in ambush, snipers, roadside bombs, armed pickup trucks etc - in built-up areas, without sending in troops on the ground.
However, nobody could come up with a plan for a miraculous through-buildings scanner beam or anything - certainly not within the available funding - and so the Grand Challenge became a robotics compo. This process may also have been encouraged by the fact that the Challenge, despite much waffle regarding RJ Mitchell and other British historical themes, was clearly modelled on the rather larger-scale American robo-vehicle events of recent years.
The US contests, run by blue-skies wacky-notions agency DARPA, aren't expected to produce immediately useful kit, but rather to help in exploring which ideas are feasible for the mid-to-long-term. They also develop technologies which could be useful for many tasks - for instance the precise laser-radar scanners used on many DARPA robo-vehicle contenders, which can give a computer a useful picture of what's around it far more simply than a visual camera can.
Even so, the day of the unmanned supply convoy may never come, and the day of the autonomous droid tank seems further off still.
The UK MoD takes a different stance, arguing that the Grand Challenge technologies "could be in use within 18 months", and that government funds were handed out in an attempt to get battle-winning kit to our troops quickly, rather than map out the possibilities of coming decades.
This seems truly foolish. If you want to spend £10m to help out our troops ASAP, there are literally dozens of things you could buy off the shelf which they'd love to have and don't - usually quite boring stuff like off-road vehicles which actually work off road, heavy weapons, desert kit etc. They might even spend the cash on language courses or pay rises, so as to have more people there and be able to achieve more with them.
Our people in Afghanistan already have small recon drones and bomb-disposal robots, in fact - and that's all that Team Stellar fielded. If it made sense to recce towns using ground robots, they'd be doing it. They aren't, probably because real Afghan villages have curious inhabitants with kids, as well as nasty Taliban ambushers, and an unarmed robot on its own would probably be pushed over on its side within minutes of entering one.
Team Stellar may have some special sauce in their control station, but it's likely to be heavily dependent on the ground robot - and thus likely to be more than a tad pointless. It wouldn't be a surprise to find that Team Stellar actually won the trophy simply because their human operators were better or luckier at spotting the make-believe threat actors in the tests than the other teams; not because their technology was any better.
All in all, as Baroness Taylor says, the UK isn't short of good engineers. Nor is it short of good soldiers. But civil servants (uniformed or not) who can spend government money effectively to achieve a goal, or who can even decide on what their goal is - frankly, officials who can pour piss out of a boot without instructions written on the heel - them, we're very short of indeed. ®
How about a standard form for people to complain about LP's articles? They obviously don't have time to actually read the article, so they shouldn't have to waste time thinking up a pointless uninformed comment as well.
The whole *point* of this article is that the UK is pretending that this is actually going to end up in the field, as opposed to DARPA who are up front that their contests are purely for R&D purposes.
R&D in any field almost never goes from concept to product in 18 months, even rarer with military equipment. If that really was the goal, then they would be far better off just getting more of the kit that is here already.
In any case, I didn't see any mention of the word "Chinook" in the article.
if there was 10M worth of kit that was actually needed this week they'd almost certainly get it. The flow of new stuff is unabated and some of it is replaced with the latest version with each 6 month troop rotation. There's also a lot of battle experimentaion to try and sort the 'great idea' from the 'really useful on the ground', not doubt anything emerging from the Grand Challenge will get the same treatment. It's also clear that the real shortages are of some of the new items for training in UK before deployment. Perhaps at bit less attention to tired tabloid headlines and quotes from the immortal private tommy snooks, instant expert on everything.
I'd give all the crap about more Chinooks at bit of examination too, crews may be a more pressing need and if extra were really needed then no doubt funds could found, one teeny problem - delivery time in years. Big surprise I know, but you can't just pop down to the showroom and fly one away. It's also noteworthy that most movement in Afghanistan in totally unsuitable for Chinooks, it's boots on the ground stuff from the local forward operating base. Swanning around the desert in 4WDs doesn't contribute a huge amount either (just because that's what jolly jack does at sea doesn't mean tommy does it ashore).
@AC surely you jest and read much fiction and wankee propaganda do we ?
But alas , obviously if that was the case of lack of arms for the average Russian infantry foot soldier in WW2 then Finland would have lost both rounds in the winter war of 1939(the average Finnish Infantry Soldier had to be sent to the front self equipped for the first month or two from his own home stores) and the six week summer war of 1944 and both times Uncle Joe said the magic word "I give up , just what is their problem of this rebellious former Tsarist province rejecting me as their dear leader for all of the three rounds since 1919 ? "!
They did not , as history tell us their Russian counterparts left ample fully loaded equipment to supply several armies just lying on the ground for any fool to pick up and use to shoot at those much fewer remaining smarter ones standing in the fifth row who wisely chose retreat over advance !
Not a reader of real history I see , but believing in propaganda can be fatal to one's health at the best of times !