The Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA) has awarded 21 contracts to small and medium-sized enterprises and innovators to fast-track operations of autonomous vehicles and systems in challenging and harsh environments.

Funded through the UK Ministry of Defence’s (MoD) Chief Scientific Adviser’s Research Programme’s Autonomy Incubator project, the cumulative contracts worth £2.1m were awarded for next-generation autonomy systems.

The project aims to identify and develop unmanned systems across defence.

Last year, DASA launched the Autonomy in a Dynamic World competition on behalf of Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl).

The competition sought proposals for new techniques to improve the way autonomous systems work in various conditions.

These conditions include rugged landscapes, dense vegetation, varying wind speeds and sea states, and man-made conditions such as congested and contested electromagnetic spaces.

Solutions were also sought to the Human-Autonomy Teaming (HAT) problem, the integration of humans, artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics into military systems.

The organisations that secured the funding are Animal Dynamics, Archangel, Autonomous Devices, Beamagine SL, Blue Bear Systems Research, Createc, Deep Vision, and Frazer-Nash Consultancy.

Horiba Mira, Imperial College London, Plextek Service Ltd (2 proposals funded), QinetiQ Business Unit Farnborough, SeeByte Limited, Sonardyne International, University of Dundee and Zenotech also secured the funding.

DASA delivery manager Laurence Bickerton said: “DASA is pleased to be working with Dstl and some of the best and brightest minds in industry to provide a step-change in the capability of unmanned autonomous military systems.

“In society, we are becoming increasingly dependent and trusting of unmanned, autonomous and semi-autonomous systems to operate our machinery, cars and even our home deliveries.

“Similarly, in defence, autonomous systems are driving a revolutionary change in military operations, transforming the battlespace with improved intelligence and mobility.”