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Thread: Mini-helicopters, flying saucers and robot buggies fight it out for war games prize·

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    Cool Mini-helicopters, flying saucers and robot buggies fight it out for war games prize·

    Mini-helicopters, flying saucers and robot buggies fight it out for war games prize

    This article appeared in the Guardian on Friday May 02 2008 on p18 of the UK news section. It was last updated at 00:47 on May 02 2008.

    An unmanned aerial still camera helicopter, held by Joseph Barnard. Photograph: Martin Argles

    "We call it boys' toys for warfare," bellows Chris Burgess, as the hip-hop act Stromkern roars "Come Armageddon come" from the plasma screen behind him.
    On the video a radio-controlled buggy is zipping along a dusty street, its onboard camera swivelling left and right, on the lookout for snipers and roadside bombs that might lie ahead.
    Burgess belongs to one of 11 teams unveiled as finalists in the Ministry of Defence's most ambitious - and unusual - attempt to bring hi-tech science to the frontline. Called the Grand Challenge, the £4m project calls on engineers to design a robot that can scour an urban area for enemy combatants and explosives and report back, preferably without human intervention.
    Among the finalists are a swarm of tiny helicopters that can peer into windows, a flying saucer, and what looks like a scaled-down version of a JCB. By August the teams, a hotch-potch of defence companies, universities and sixth form colleges, will go head-to-head over three weeks to decide on a winner. The battle will be played out on the streets of Copehill Down, a mock-up of an East German village built in the Wiltshire countryside during the cold war.
    The competition will test each robot's ability to go into the village and spot different threats, including snipers, groups of gunmen, armed vehicles and improvised explosive devices or IEDs. Teams will be docked points for missing threats, being slow and targeting harmless civilians lurking among the buildings.
    "It's a very tough challenge," said Andy Wallace at the MoD. "They have to deploy, move around by themselves and avoid obstacles, while locating and identifying things that pose a threat before reporting back." The challenge is a tacit admission that the large defence companies which provide the British military's frontline technology rarely come up with the most imaginative ideas.
    By throwing open the challenge to all comers the government aims to tap the brainpower of smaller companies and individual researchers. The idea was pioneered by the Pentagon, whose own Grand Challenge was set up to encourage new technology for driverless vehicles.
    The winner will receive the RJ Mitchell trophy, named after the father of the Spitfire and moulded from metal recycled from one of the second world war fighter planes. Those who perform best will get backing from the MoD to turn their robots into gadgets that will support soldiers in the future.
    Team Mira, one of the finalists backed by BAE Systems and involving students from Guildford's Royal Grammar school sixth form, has built a ground-based buggy that uses a laser scanner, thermal imaging and cameras to scan the streets for signs of danger. To check rooftops and other inaccessible areas the buggy automatically launches a flying saucer-like vehicle that can hover over buildings and send images back to base. "It's a bit like Wacky Races," says team member Richard Adams.
    Another of the finalists, Swarm Systems, is putting its faith in eight "quadrotors" - small, flat helicopters the size of dinner plates that will fly into the village in formation and beam back video and sound. Microphones built into the aerial vehicles filter out everything except voices. The helicopters are designed to take off autonomously and can fly a few metres above the ground. "We're working on a version that you'll just pull out of your bag and throw into the air," said Owen Holland, an engineer on the team from Essex University. "Hopefully it's not going to give anyone a haircut."
    Last edited by Max; 05-03-2008 at 07:41 PM.

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