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Defence tech lab tests drones for emergencies


The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) has completed a series of tests in the use of drones and robots in responding to emergency situations.

It has carried out the tests on four concepts under the second phase of Project Minerva, which is aimed at reducing the risk to emergency services and frontline troops attending incidents or operations involving hazardous chemical or biological materials.

DSTL said the trials, which took place recently at the Gloucestershire Fire Service College, involved concept drones and robots that were selected from phase two of the project. They were tested in simulated scenarios against human response teams supported by DSTL scientists, the military, police and fire services.

SME initiatives

All of the four concepts were developed by SMEs and academic institutions. They included unmanned aerial vehicles with gas sensing technology and 2DF and 3D mapping and modelling, developed by BMT Defence Services, with Rescue Global, Herriot Watt and Edinburgh Universities and Red Alert.

Another, developed by Horiba MIRA, involved the use of small ground robot that uses neural network technology to recognise signs of hazardous chemicals.

Loughborough University with Swarm Systems, Createc and ScenesSEARCH developed a pocket sized nano drone with gas sensors and video and thermal imaging.

The fourth, named Snake Eyes, was developed by Autonomous Devices and Pendar as a hybrid air and ground vehicle optimised for confined spaces to relay 3D images of space and detect chemical agents using a compact laser system.

Peter Stockel, DSTL’s autonomy lead, said: “These two weeks of trials see the culmination of over 18 months of work to realise an exciting vision, which could see robots and humans working together in demanding situations and potentially save lives when dealing with incidents involving hazardous substances.

“In this ‘technology exploration’, we’ve been working with industry and academia to rapidly advance robotic and autonomous solutions to enhance our response options and tools for the near future.

“With continued involvement across government, and demonstration with the user community, we aim to mature this emergent capability to test the ‘art of the possible’ and accelerate this into the hands of the prospective users for further operational evaluation, both for MoD and the Home Office.”

Phase one of Project Minerva, which ran for six months last year, funded 18 development projects at a cost of £1.37 million. Four teams were selected for shared of £1.6 million of support under phase two.

The project has received more than £3 million in funding from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the Home Office over the past two years.

Image: Crown Copyright, Open Government Licence v3.0

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