UK-based global major aerospace and defence group BAE Systems and the University of Birmingham in England have signed a memorandum of understanding to create an Advanced Sensing Technologies Consortium (ASTC). This consortium is part of the UK’s State-funded National Quantum Technologies Programme, which involves the creation of four technology hubs in the UK, with the Sensors and Timing hub being led by the University of Birmingham.
“As experts in the defence, aerospace and security sector, we know sophisticated sensing technology is absolutely critical in our ambitions to develop intelligent systems that can survive in a complex and congested battlespace environment,” pointed out BAE Systems Air Sector chief technologist Julia Sutcliffe. “Information provides a critical advantage and comes in many forms that sensors can deliver, from navigational aids to situational awareness.”
The ASTC will draw on expertise from government as well as academia and industry. In addition to developing advanced sensor technologies, it will also pursue disruptive technologies, for the benefit of British industry.
“It has the potential to create enormous economic value and change the way we live,” highlighted University of Birmingham College of Engineering and Physical Sciences director of innovation and UK Quantum Technology Hub: Sensors and Timing principal investigator Professor Kai Bongs. “Novel sensor technologies and digital twinning are enabling disruptive innovation in a faster and cheaper way, creating unprecedented benefit to society and the economy. We now need to accelerate the market pull by demonstrating how these new sensors can be integrated into high-value systems, change operations and our lifestyles.”
One of the technology research projects is the development of new and novel navigation systems that do not need to use satellite navigation systems, such as GPS (global positioning system). These would permit resilient navigation systems for defence and shipping use in environments in which GPS could not be accessed.
Another advanced technology project is aimed at ‘cognitive workload management’ – that is, developing technologies that could measure mental workload. Such technologies would benefit armed forces, medicine and industry, with diagnosing conditions or evaluating tiredness or work overload among critically-important human operators – a defence example would be fighter pilots.
Two other such projects cover the development of enhanced situational awareness sensors and the detection of difficult-to-see targets. Enhanced situational awareness could provide breakthrough capabilities for autonomous vehicles and urban flight operations. Novel sensors could detect buried infrastructure (such as bunkers and tunnels) but also be of great use to the construction, mining, oil and gas, transport and critical national infrastructure sectors.
“This initiative is aimed at accelerating the pace of exploitation of these developing capabilities, enabling us to take technology from a lab environment and apply it quickly in real-world scenarios,” stressed Sutcliffe. “For example, our test pilots are trialing novel technologies to measure cognitive workload both on the ground and in the air, meaning we can test how intuitive and effective it really is and ensure any learning is fed back into our research and development at an early stage.”