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This publication is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/cde-themed-competition-seeing-through-the-clouds/competition-document-seeing-through-the-clouds
1. Seeing through the clouds
This Centre for Defence Enterprise (CDE) themed competition seeks active and passive optical imaging technologies to see through clouds. This is so that the Ministry of Defence (MOD) can operate effectively in environments with low visibility.
Your proposal must be received by CDE by 5pm on Thursday 1 September 2016. Your proposal must be submitted to CDE online.
Weather has always affected the use of visible light and infrared imaging technology. MOD would like to understand if emerging technologies offer new opportunities for high-resolution imaging when poor weather reduces visibility.
This CDE themed competition is looking for new and emerging electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) technologies and concepts that could provide additional operational capability in these challenging environments.
Optical sensors are widely used by MOD because they can provide high-resolution images that are easily interpreted and may provide video or motion imagery. These sensors can be used for:
collecting reconnaissance images from an aircraft, eg the visible and midwave infrared (MWIR, ie light with wavelength in the range 3 to 5µm) sensors in the Reconnaissance Airborne Pod for Tornado (RAPTOR)
targeting weapons or carrying out surveillance from the air, eg the Litening targeting pod (visible and MWIR) carried by Tornado and Typhoon, or the multi-spectral targeting sensors (MTS-B) used on the MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV)
battlefield surveillance, targeting and driver aids for ground vehicles, eg the day/night gunner sight DNGS-T3 (visible and longwave infrared (LWIR, ie light with wavelength in the range 7 to 14µm)) system of the new AJAX armoured fighting vehicle
assisting dismounted soldiers in detecting threats and targeting weapons, eg the command launch unit of the Javelin anti-tank weapon
landing and manoeuvreing helicopters, eg the Titan turret (MWIR) on Chinook
fire control and situational awareness at sea, eg Ultra Electronics Series 2500 electro-optical director on the Type 45 Destroyer
The current systems described above provide excellent capabilities in clear weather, but are hampered to varying degrees by fog, clouds, smoke, etc. We’re looking for technology that gives us a step-change in capability beyond these systems, allowing them to operate in a wider range of environmental conditions.
3. Technology challenges
In this CDE themed competition, we’re looking for proof-of-concept research into active and passive optical imaging through clouds.
Clouds interfere with optical sensors by absorbing light coming from a target, scattering light from the target and also emitting radiation themselves in infrared wavebands. In this document the term ‘target’ refers to any object of interest that’s in or beyond the cloud.
When light is scattered by the cloud, the information it carries about the target is degraded or destroyed. Scattering will reduce the contrast between the target and other things around it. Absorption by the cloud reduces the amount of light from the target that can be collected by the sensor. Emission from the cloud increases the background level and reduces the relative contribution from the signal. All these effects act to reduce the signal to noise ratio that can be achieved.
There are a number of techniques that could improve current capabilities. These could include, but aren’t limited to:
- better radiometric resolution (ability to measure smaller differences in signal)
- using properties such as wavelength, polarization and coherence to reduce the effect of the cloud on the signal being measured
- identifying photons that haven’t been affected by the cloud (eg based on time of flight or angle of arrival)
- artificial illumination and gated imaging to increase signal level
- techniques to infer information about the target from light scattered by the cloud (eg exploiting the ‘shower-curtain effect’)
The cloud types of interest could be:
- water (mist and fog on the ground and in the maritime, clouds in the sky and rain)
- soil (dust clouds and sand storms either naturally created or man-made such as might be created by helicopter down draft)
- ice (snow at ground level and ice clouds at high altitude)
- man-made (smoke, smog and other mixed particulate clouds)
We’re interested in solutions that improve the range at which our sensors can operate effectively. There are some situations where our current sensors provide useful capability, but we want to improve on this. Often these are situations where both the observer and the target are within the cloud. Examples include mist and fog, dust storms and helicopters landing in dusty areas (‘brownout’).
The effect of a cloud can be measured by the amount of light coming from the target that reaches the sensor. This can be stated as a percentage. It can also be described as a number of ‘attenuation lengths’. For each attenuation length the light travels, the amount that hasn’t been absorbed or scattered falls by a factor of e (the base of natural logarithms, e is approximately 2.72).
It’s often assumed that targets can no longer be detected beyond 4 to 5 attenuation lengths, or 2% transmission. In the field of meteorology, the Meteorological Optical Range is formally defined as the distance to which 5% of the light from a specific source penetrates (approximately 3 attenuation lengths) (see Guide to Meteorological Instruments and Methods of Observation (WMO-No. 8))
We want to achieve an improvement of at least 2 orders of magnitude in the amount of light transmitted. That means we want to be able to detect targets when the transmission falls to 0.02%, equivalent to approximately 8 to 9 attenuation lengths. We understand that this will be really difficult and so this isn’t a mandatory requirement. If you think your solution would come close to achieving these challenging targets we’d still consider your proposal.
The ability to detect a target depends on what the target is. We want proposals that consider a particular application and meet these requirements for the relevant targets.
We’re also interested in solutions for the situation where the target and the observer are on either side of the cloud. Because it’s necessary to see through the entire thickness of the cloud, the optical depth that must be penetrated is likely to be greater. Examples include collecting reconnaissance images from an aircraft with clouds below it, and seeing through a dense smoke screen. In this case current sensors may not provide any capability at all. This is a demanding challenge, but the potential rewards are greater.
3.1 Challenge 1: active techniques
Active imaging techniques such as burst illumination LAser Detection And Ranging (Ladar) and LIght Detection And Ranging (Lidar) provide some enhanced capability through obscuration, but we’re looking for new sensor technologies (single photon counting) and novel approaches (ballistic photons) to extend the performance to provide a step change in capability.
3.2 Challenge 2: passive techniques
Passive techniques are likely to be less effective than active, but are more easily exploited. We’re interested in proposals to exploit novel spectral or polarisation effects to enhance target contrast in bad weather conditions. Proposals might include advanced image processing techniques or new sensors to amplify the low-contrast images.
4. What we want
We want proposals for active and passive optical imaging. By optical, we mean sensors operating at any wavelengths between ultraviolet and LWIR (ie wavelengths in the approximate range 0.01 to-14µm).
We’re seeking low technology readiness level (TRL) (2 to 3) concepts and are therefore looking for disruptive capabilities, not incremental developments.
We also want to see development of practical techniques or hardware components, rather than pure theory..
You don’t have to provide a whole solution. Your proposed technology could offer part of the solution to the challenge. We’ll encourage you to collaborate in any follow-on phase-2 projects.
5. What we don’t want
For this competition we’re not interested in proposals for:
- demonstrations of off-the-shelf products
- paper-based studies or literature reviews
- solutions that don’t offer significant benefit to defence
- radio frequency sensors
- radiation transfer modelling
- facilities for testing technologies
- incremental improvements
- PhD proposals
- projects that can’t demonstrate feasibility within the phase-1 timescale
All projects funded at phase 1 will be expected to take part in a presentation day together with the other funded organisations. This will be an opportunity to meet other participants and discuss potential collaboration. The event will take place in March 2017 at or near a Dstl site and participation must be costed into the proposal.
Outputs of funded work may be exposed to international government partners in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and NATO (full rights version only). This is to promote international collaboration and to give projects the best chance of exploitation through exposure to a larger scope of defence requirements.
We aim to take forward a number of the most successful outputs from phase-1 projects for phase-2 funding. Only bidders funded at phase 1 qualify for entry into phase-2 of this competition where up to an additional £1 million of funding will be made available. Phase-2 funding will be awarded on a per-project basis. Phase-2 projects can last up to 12 months.
As a deliverable of the phase-1 project, successful bidders will also be expected to produce a fully costed proposal for a phase-2 project.
7. Important information
This competition will be supported by presentations given at the CDE Innovation Network event on 30 June 2016.
Your proposal must be received by CDE by 5pm on Thursday 1 September 2016. Proposals must be submitted to CDE online.
We won’t accept proposals over £100,000 and it’s more likely at this stage that a larger number of lower-value proposals (eg £40,000 to £80,000) will be funded than a small number of higher-value proposals. Total funding available for phase 1 of this competition is £500,000.
Proposals should focus on a short, sharp, proof-of-concept phase up to 6 months in duration, with deliverables completed by 31 March 2017.
Proposals should include a descriptive scoping for a longer programme (phase-2 onwards) of any duration, but the proposal should be clearly partitioned with a costed proof-of-concept stage, which is the focus of this CDE themed competition.
Phase-2 work will only be considered after the phase-1 proof-of concept has delivered. The understanding gained in phase-1 will allow Dstl to make an informed decision about funding for future work.
Proposals will be assessed by subject matter experts from MOD, Dstl and the Met Office. Read about how your proposal is assessed.
Dstl will be available to provide advice and/or guidance via an appointed technical partner throughout the project and provide the interface with MOD and wider government stakeholder community.
Deliverables from contracts will be made available to technical partners and subject to review by UK MOD.
Because we want practical techniques or hardware components, you should consider how your deliverables will demonstrate your technology. This could be in the form of a demonstration to the technical partner, a demonstration at the presentation day, or a report describing the outcome of tests you have carried out. Other forms of demonstration may also be acceptable.
7.1 Ethical considerations
All research involving human participation conducted or sponsored by MOD is subject to ethical review under MOD procedures as outlined in Joint Service Publication 536 ‘Ministry of Defence Policy for Research Involving Human Participants’, irrespective of any separate ethical procedures (eg from universities or other organisations). This ensures that acceptable ethical standards are met, upheld and recorded, adhering to nationally and internationally accepted principles and guidance.
The following definitions explain the areas of research that require approval:
- clinical: conducting research on a human participant, including (but not limited to) administering substances, taking blood or urine samples, removing biological tissue, radiological investigations, or obtaining responses to an imposed stress or experimental situation
- non-clinical: conducting research to collect data on an identifiable individual’s behaviour, either directly or indirectly (such as by questionnaire or observation)
All proposals should declare if there are potential ethical issues.
Securing ethical approval through the MOD process can take up to 3 months. In this CDE themed competition, projects must be completed by 31 March 2017 and obtaining ethical approval could take your proposal beyond the timeline for completion of phase 1. We, therefore, recommend that you only include research in phase 1 that doesn’t require ethical approval. Work that might require ethical approval should be planned for future phases of work which are likely to have longer and more flexible timescales.
However, if you think that your phase-1 proposal may require ethical approval, please ensure that you take an approach in your submission as follows (noting that projects must still complete by 31 March 2017):
- milestone 1: gaining ethics approval for the project, including delivery of the research protocols (the protocol will need to be detailed by completing the ethics application form)
- milestone 2: proposed research that will be carried out subject to gaining ethics approval (optional phases to be formally invoked, where appropriate)
A contractual break point should be included after milestone 1.
The requirement for ethical approval isn’t a barrier to funding; proposals are assessed on technical merit and potential for exploitation. Successful proposals will be supported through the ethical review process; however, an outline of your research methods must be included in your proposal to help this process.
|30 June 2016||Competition briefing at Innovation Network event|
|7 July 2016||Webinar|
|1 September 2016||Competition closes at 5pm|
|Mid October 2016||Contract placement initiated and feedback provided|
|31 March 2017||Latest date for the delivery of phase-1 proof-of-concept research|
|March 2017||Phase-1 demonstration event|
|Late April 2017||Phase-2 funding decisions made|
9. Queries and help
While you’re preparing your proposals, you can contact us if you have any queries:
Technical queries about this competition should be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Capacity to answer these queries is limited in terms of volume and scope. Queries should be limited to a few simple questions or if provided with a short (few paragraphs) description of your proposal, the technical team will provide, without commitment or prejudice, broad yes/no answers. This query facility is not to be used for extensive technical discussions, detailed review of proposals or supporting the iterative development of ideas. While all reasonable efforts will be made to answer queries, CDE and Dstl reserves the right to impose management controls when higher than average volumes of queries or resource demands restrict fair access to all potential proposal submitters.
General queries should be sent directly to CDE at: email@example.com