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This publication is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/competition-autonomy-in-challenging-environments/competition-document-autonomy-in-challenging-environments
This Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA) competition is seeking proposals that can provide a step change in the capability of unmanned autonomous military systems to operate in challenging environments.
This call is funded through the MOD’s Chief Scientific Advisor’s Research Programme’s Autonomy Incubator project that aims to: identify and develop underpinning research and technologies to support the development and fielding of unmanned systems across defence which may be matured through the Autonomy and other research and development programmes.
2. Competition scope
Unmanned, autonomous and semi-autonomous systems have potential applications across many military capability areas and civilian operations and are expected to be increasingly deployed by the UK Armed Forces over the next few decades. Many autonomous systems have been developed and optimised in ideal conditions. However, future military operations are anticipated to be in environments that are challenging both from a physical and electromagnetic (EM) perspective, affecting the efficiency and effectiveness of current autonomy technologies. Consequently, there is a need for technologies to enhance the performance of autonomous systems in challenging environments to support future military operations.
This competition is seeking technologies to broaden the environmental and performance envelope of unmanned autonomous or semi-autonomous systems to include:
- unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV)
- unmanned surface vehicle (USV)
- unmanned ground vehicle (UGV)
- unmanned air system (UAS)
- or hybrid systems
The challenging environmental conditions within scope are:
- high winds (such as gust effects and urban turbulence)
- heavy precipitation (such as rain, snow, blizzards and icing)
- high dynamic range illumination (including changes to UV, and night vision)
- water dynamics (such as currents and visibility)
- temperature (such as temperature extremes and fluctuations between extremes)
- sudden and enduring pressure or acoustic extremes underwater
- intense flashes of light (including infrared and ultraviolet)
- variable salinity
- dense vegetation (including flora and fauna)
- extreme and diverse terrains (such as variability in traction and elevation)
- high-obstacle environments (such as within caves and buildings)
- congested and contested EM environments (including radio frequency (RF) emissions)
- GPS denied environments
Any solutions proposed must not erode the core benefits of the existing unmanned autonomous or semi-autonomous systems which include:
- persistence: unmanned systems should be able to operate independently for long periods and/or over long ranges either singularly or through an exchange or replacement system. Priority will be given to ideas that will have a low impact on size, weight and power (SWAP), for example, novel structural concepts could be combined with sensing and perception.
- combat mass: where the unmanned systems increase the sphere of influence through larger numbers of low cost systems. Low cost solutions are sought here.
- reach: unmanned systems must collectively lead to an increase in effective range of operation which must still be achieved in high risk and physically constrained environments.
Phase 1 aims to understand the feasibility, impact and military application of the innovation; for potential further development in Phase 2.
3. Competition challenges
Proposals must address one or more of the following three challenge areas associated with the unmanned systems and environmental conditions listed above:
- perception and situational awareness
- maintaining effective human-machine partnerships
3.1 Challenge 1: perception and situational awareness
This challenge seeks technologies to establish and maintain local situational and self-awareness of unmanned autonomous or semi-autonomous systems in adverse environmental conditions or across a spectrum of variable conditions. This requires that the system has the ability to sense, interpret, and understand its local environment, and then respond autonomously to that understanding appropriately.
Areas of interest include:
- novel or alternative sensing techniques (such as EM, acoustic, seismic, flow, novel electro-optic (EO) and polarisation sensing)
- imaging techniques that can operate in lowlight and high illumination environments
- techniques for dynamic sensor and platform stabilisation in turbulent or rough environments (through either physical or processing means)
- techniques for the abstraction of information to expand the operational window, with minimal human participation (including effects of sensor data uncertainty on real-time interpretation of the information)
- techniques or materials to minimise sensor obscuration due to moisture or contaminants (causes could include rain, mist, sea spray, surfacing, and rapid temperature changes)
- novel antennas (including sensor pre-processing); directional communications and other technologies aimed at reducing the vulnerability of autonomous systems.
This challenge is not just about better sensors, it is about situational / self-awareness, and therefore any sensor-based solutions should come with the requisite processing to demonstrate the required capability enhancement.
3.2 Challenge 2: mobility
There is an aspiration to maintain the freedom of mobility of autonomous systems as conditions deteriorate, particularly in dynamic, uncertain and cluttered environments. This challenge seeks solutions that will allow autonomous and semi-autonomous platforms to withstand the effects of challenging environmental conditions throughout their missions.
We are interested in innovative technologies which address this, such as anisotropic materials applications, soft robotics, embodied artificial intelligence (AI) or other novel methods to increase autonomous systems’ ability to respond or adapt to environmental challenges. Priority will be given to technologies that support the benefits and priorities identified in the scope. This challenge also facilitates the application of Challenge 1 technologies to maintain mobility.
3.3 Challenge 3: maintaining effective human-machine partnerships
At the core of future military advantage will be the effective integration of humans, AI and robotics into military systems – human-machine teams. Except for UUVs, research concepts for autonomous and semi-autonomous systems have relied on the ability to maintain constant communication between the human operator and the unmanned platform. During operations in the challenging environments described, maintaining effective human-machine teams is a difficult when communications are not always guaranteed.
This challenge seeks proposals that address human-machine teaming when the ability to communicate with the unmanned systems is limited, fleeting or not at all possible for extended periods.
Areas of interest include:
- pre-mission planning: the collaborative development of mission plans, using a mixed initiative approach between the human and system. Work in this area should focus on an anticipated loss of communications and the development of suitable contingencies and strategies.
- desynchronised operations (both deliberate and unplanned): when the communications link is lost, how the autonomous system continues to conduct the mission effectively and safely in line with the human operator’s intent, while dynamically adapting to changes in the external environment and optimising the opportunities to re-establish communications. Can the human operator predict what the system will do and anticipate when the autonomous system might resume communications?
- resynchronisation of the human-machine team: when communications are re-established how the human-machine team quickly share what they have been doing, their respective situational awareness and any updates to future plans.
It is important that over the lifetime of DASA competitions, ideas are matured and accelerated towards appropriate end-users to enhance capability. How long this takes will be dependent on the nature and starting point of the innovation. Early identification and appropriate engagement with potential end-users during this competition and subsequent phases are essential in order to develop and implement an exploitation plan.
All proposals to DASA should articulate the expected development in technology maturity of the potential solution over the lifetime of the contract and how this relates to improved operational capability against the current known or presumed baseline (it would normally be expected that any work undertaken in these projects would increase Technology Readiness Level (TRL)). Your deliverables should be designed to evidence these aspects with the aim of making it as easy as possible for possible collaborators / stakeholders to identify the innovative elements of your proposal in order to consider routes for exploitation. DASA Innovation Partners are available to support you with defence and security context.
A higher technology maturity will be expected in subsequent phases. You may wish to include some of the following information, where known, to help the assessors understand your exploitation plans to date:
- the intended defence or security users of your final product and whether you have previously engaged with them, their procurement arm or their research and development arm
- awareness of, and alignment to, any existing end-user procurement programmes
- the anticipated benefits (for example, in cost, time, improved capability) that your solution will provide to the user
- whether it is likely to be a standalone product or integrated with other technologies or platforms
- expected additional work required beyond the end of the contract to develop an operationally deployable commercial product (for example, “scaling up” for manufacture, cyber security, integration with existing technologies, environmental operating conditions)
- additional future applications and wider markets for exploitation
- wider collaborations and networks you have already developed or any additional relationships you see as a requirement to support exploitation
- how your product could be tested in a representative environment in later phases
- any specific legal, ethical, commercial or regulatory considerations for exploitation
There are a number of potential exploitation routes but you are not required to have specific links to any of these routes for Phase 1. DASA and the project team will work with you in Phase 1 to help make the appropriate links to specific Autonomy platforms, existing MOD projects and wider opportunities for exploitation.
5. How to apply
Proposals for funding to meet these challenges must be submitted by Thursday 10 October at midday (BST) via the DASA submission service for which you will be required to register.
The total funding available for this Phase 1 competition is £2 million, but individual proposals cannot exceed £100k. If successful, contracts will be awarded for a duration of 6 months.
Additional funding is expected to be available for further phases.
Please note any further phases will be open to applications from all suppliers and not just those that submitted Phase 1 successful bids.
Further guidance on submitting a proposal is available on the DASA website.
5.1 What your proposal must include
The proposal should focus on the Phase 1 requirements but must also include a brief, un-costed outline of the next stages of work required for exploitation.
When submitting a proposal, you must complete all sections of the online form, including an appropriate level of technical information to allow assessment of the bid and a completed finances section. Completed proposals must comply with the financial rules set for this competition. The upper-limit for this competition is £100k. Proposals will be rejected if the financial cost exceeds this capped level.
Your proposal must demonstrate how you will complete all research and development activities/services and provide all deliverables within the competition timescales. A project plan with clear milestones and deliverables must be provided. Deliverables must be well defined and designed to provide evidence of progress against the project plan and the end-point for this phase; they must include a final report. You should also plan for attendance at a kick off meeting at the start of Phase 1, a mid-Phase event and a showcase event at the end of Phase 1, as well as regular reviews with the appointed Technical Partner; all meetings will be in the UK. Your proposal must demonstrate how you will complete all activities/services and provide all deliverables within the competition timescales (6 months). Proposals with any deliverables (including final report) outside the competition timeline will be rejected as non-compliant.
A resourcing plan must also be provided that identifies, where possible, the nationalities of those proposed Research Workers that you intend working on this phase. In the event of proposals being recommended for funding, DASA reserves the right to undertake due diligence checks including the clearance of proposed Research Workers. Please note that this process will take as long as necessary and could take up to 6 weeks in some cases for non-UK nationals.
You must identify any ethical / legal / regulatory factors within your proposal and how the associated risks will be managed, including break points in the project if approvals are not received. MODREC approvals can take up to 5 months therefore you should plan your work programme accordingly. Further details are available in the DASA guidance. If you are unsure if your proposal will need to apply for MODREC approval, then please contact DASA for further guidance.
In addition, requirements for access to Government Furnished Assets (GFA), for example, information, equipment, materials and facilities, should be included in your proposal. DASA cannot guarantee that GFA will be available.
Failure to provide any of the above listed will automatically render your proposal non-compliant.
5.2 Public facing information
When submitting your proposal, you will be required to include a proposal title and a short abstract. If your proposal is funded, the title and abstract you provide will be used by DASA, and other government departments as appropriate, to describe the project and its intended outcomes and benefits. It will be used for inclusion at DASA events in relation to this competition and included in documentation such as brochures for the event. This information (proposal title) will also be published in the DASA transparency data on gov.uk, along with your company name, the amount of funding, and the start and end dates of your contract.
5.3 How your proposal will be assessed
All proposals will be checked for compliance with the competition document and may be rejected before full assessment if they do not comply. Only those proposals who demonstrate their compliance against the competition scope and DASA criteria will be taken forward to full assessment. Failure to achieve full compliance against Stage 1 will render your proposal non-compliant and will not be considered any further:
|The proposal outlines how it meets the scope of the competition.||Within scope (Pass) / Out of scope (Fail)|
|The proposal fully explains in all three sections of the DASA submission service how it meets the DASA criteria||Pass / Fail|
|Clearly stated safety cases where applicable||Pass / Fail|
|The proposal clearly details a financial plan, a project plan and a resourcing plan to complete the work proposed in Phase 1||Pass / Fail|
|The proposal identifies the need (or not) for MODREC approval||Pass / Fail|
|The proposal identifies any GFA required for Phase 1||Pass / Fail|
|Maximum value of proposal is £100k||Pass / Fail|
|The proposal demonstrates how all activities/services (including delivery of the final report) will be completed within 6 months from award of contract (or less)||Pass / Fail|
|The bidder provides unqualified acceptance of the terms and conditions of the Contract.||Pass / Fail|
Proposals that meet Stage 1 will then be assessed against the standard DASA assessment criteria (Desirability, Feasibility and Viability) by subject matter experts from the MOD (including Dstl), other government departments and front-line military commands. You will not have the opportunity to comment on assessors comments.
DASA reserves the right to disclose on a confidential basis any information it receives from bidders during the procurement process (including information identified by the bidder as Commercially Sensitive Information in accordance with the provisions of this competition) to any third party engaged by DASA for the specific purpose of evaluating or assisting DASA in the evaluation of the bidder’s proposal. In providing such information the bidder consents to such disclosure. Appropriate confidentiality agreements will be put in place.
Further guidance on how your proposal is assessed is available on the DASA website.
After assessment, proposals will be discussed internally at a Decision Conference where, based on the assessments, budget and wider strategic considerations, a decision will be made on the proposals that are recommended for funding.
Proposals that are unsuccessful will receive brief feedback after the Decision Conference.
5.4 Things you should know about DASA contracts
Please read the DASA terms and conditions which contain important information for suppliers. For this competition we will be trialling a new Standardised Contracting (SC) Innovation Contract, links to the contract here: Terms and Schedules. We will require unqualified acceptance of the terms and conditions. For the avoidance of any doubt, for this Themed Competition we are NOT using the DASA Short Form Contract (SFC).
Funded projects will be allocated a Technical Partner as a technical point of contact. In addition, the DASA team will work with you to support delivery and exploitation.
We will use deliverables from DASA contracts in accordance with our rights detailed in the contract terms and conditions.
For Phase 1 of this competition, £2 million is currently available to fund proposals. There may be occasions where additional funding from other funding lines may subsequently become available to allow us to revisit those proposals deemed suitable for funding but where limitations on funding at the time prevented DASA from awarding a subsequent Contract. In such situations, DASA reserves the right to keep such proposals in reserve. In the event that additional funding subsequently becomes available, DASA may ask whether you would still be prepared to undertake the work outlined in your proposal under the same terms. Your official DASA feedback will indicate if your proposal was fundable or not.
6. Phase 1 dates
|Dial-in||Friday 6 September 2019|
|Dial-in additional date||Thursday 12 September 2019|
|Pre bookable 1-1 telecom sessions||Friday 6 September 2019|
|Pre bookable 1-1 telecom sessions additional date||Thursday 12 September 2019|
|Competition closes||Thursday 10 October 2019|
|Contracting||Aim to start contracts December 2019|
6.1 Supporting events
Friday 6 September 2019 (morning) – A dial-in session providing further detail on the problem space and a chance to ask questions in an open forum. If you would like to participate, please register on the Eventbrite page.
Friday 6 September 2019 (afternoon) – A series of 20 minute one-to-one teleconference sessions, giving you the opportunity to ask specific questions. If you would like to participate, please register on the Eventbrite page.
Thursday 12 September 2019 (morning) – A dial-in session providing further detail on the problem space and a chance to ask questions in an open forum. If you would like to participate, please register on the Eventbrite page.
Thursday 12 September 2019 (afternoon) – A series of 20 minute one-to-one teleconference sessions, giving you the opportunity to ask specific questions. If you would like to participate, please register on the Eventbrite page.
Competition queries including on process, application, technical, commercial and intellectual property aspects should be sent to email@example.com, quoting the competition title.
While all reasonable efforts will be made to answer queries, DASA reserves the right to impose management controls if volumes of queries restrict fair access of information to all potential suppliers.