The UK’s ability to produce novel and innovative sensing solutions is vital for responding to the challenges related to defence and security. The needs of the UK government’s defence and security departments are detailed in the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy. Delivery of this integrated review depends on the availability of people with the right skills, experience and security clearances to form flexible, diverse and multidisciplinary teams.
Consequently, UKRI and EPSRC, in collaboration with the National Security Technology and Innovation Exchange (NSTIx) and UK government partners, are inviting applications to attend a joint sandpit to deliver new, innovative, multidisciplinary and transformative approaches for solutions in novel sensing.
While no prior involvement with the defence or security sector is required, it is our intention that participants at the sandpit will be attracted to remain engaged with the defence and security sectors and be inspired to form longer term collaborations across UKRI remit.
The sandpit will be an intensive, inclusive, interactive, and creative environment, supporting a diverse group of participants from a range of disciplines and backgrounds from across UKRI’s remit, to work together for five days. Participants for this sandpit will be invited from a broad range of disciplines. It is important that academics collaborate outside their own discipline to address the challenges being tackled, ensuring the end user and mission of these technologies is a focus.
The aim of this sandpit is to generate research proposals that:
- take into account the needs of UK defence and security stakeholders and end-users
- form new collaborations between researchers, innovators and end-users in diverse research areas
- create new and transformative research ideas in novel sensing, and allow researchers to pitch projects for seed funding to test and de-risk novel ideas
- address the key research challenges that are identified
- may be led by researchers who have not worked in this sector before
The sandpit will be led by a director, who will be supported by a team of mentors. The director, mentors and a small number of stakeholders will attend the sandpit but will not be eligible to receive research funding. Instead, their role will be to assist participants in defining and exploring challenges in this area. The director and mentors will act as independent reviewers, making a funding recommendation on the emergent projects.
The sandpit process can be broken down into several stages:
- defining the scope of the UK defence and security challenges
- cultivating a common language and terminologies amongst people from a diverse range of backgrounds and disciplines
- sharing understandings of the challenges, and the expertise brought by the participants to the sandpit, and perspectives from relevant stakeholders
- immersing participants in collaborative thinking processes and ideas sharing to construct innovative approaches
- capturing the outputs in the form of highly innovative research projects
- a funding decision on those projects at the sandpit using ‘real-time’ peer review
The government and UKRI recognises that sensors and sensing technologies, as well as the communities that develop them, are key enablers for the UK. These technologies play a role across many industries and economic sectors, provide valuable insights for decision makers and give a competitive advantage.
The diverse and underpinning nature of these technologies means that novel research can play a pivotal role in enabling progress on a wide range of EPSRC’s current priorities including robotics, the internet of things, big data and ‘building a secure and resilient world’ which directly tackles core methodologies for supporting a more robust approach to crisis management.
Sensors and sensing technologies are crucial to the UK’s defence and security missions. Sensors in the environment detect threats to protect the public and our critical infrastructure. Defence and security operations are made more effective through improved intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.
This sandpit intends to bring together new collaborators from across a range of disciplines in UKRI’s remit to solve complex and evolving research challenges within novel sensing for defence and security. User focused and novel interdisciplinary approaches to fundamental sensing technologies have the potential to develop new, and enhance existing, sensor functionalities and performance.
This sandpit has a broad remit, which will encompass the development of sensors, materials, software, hardware, signal processing, sensor fusion and supporting human or machine decision making. We are therefore aiming to engage sandpit participants from a variety of disciplines, including but not limited to:
- materials sciences
- computer sciences
- quantum science and technologies
- physical sciences
- embedded intelligence
- healthcare technologies
- human factors
- responsible innovation
- decision making
Participants at the sandpit will be introduced to a number of defence and security scenarios by users of technology from across government. A flavour of some of the key challenges which may be addressed at the sandpit include:
- ensuring we can operate in high-threat environments, as well as the increasingly congested electromagnetic spectrum and beyond, while exploiting the latest advances
- developing sensing technologies, which have the potential to be more cost-effective, portable, sensitive and efficient than current sensors
- detect, track, recognise and identify threats
- quantify threat material
- support situational awareness
- provide information to tactical and strategic decision-makers
- integrating and consolidating data from multiple types of sensors to gain a precise and rapid understanding of surroundings
It is expected that three projects will be funded, sharing up to £3 million of total funding.
Accommodation will be provided during the residential component of the sandpit. However, participants must make their own travel arrangements. Travel and subsistence costs will be reimbursed.
Since this sandpit is partially residential, and where employers cannot help, EPSRC, in line with UKRI policy, will cover the costs of any additional childcare or caring responsibilities, which is deemed necessary during this period.