The UK Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA) announced that it has provided a Defence Innovation Loan (DIL) to a Cambridge-based startup, Silicon Microgravity, to help develop and commercialise its autonomous gravimeter technology for tunnel and bunker detection by the end of 2024.
DASA’s DIL is an alternative funding model to help convert mature defence innovations into viable business propositions that can compete for defence procurement.
The detection of sub-surface tunnels and bunkers is a challenge area for defence and recent conflicts have highlighted the growing threat of underground structures.
Current tunnel detection methods such as ground penetrating radar and electromagnetics have several drawbacks. They are often bulky, costly and challenging to apply to situations featuring terrain that is difficult to navigate, making them less efficient for quick, mobile use.
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Micro electrical mechanical systems solution
Silicon Microgravity identified the need to radically shrink, and lower the cost and power consumption of underground structure detection systems, to enhance their effectiveness for defence. Drawing inspiration from the civil environment and the current use of conducting gravity surveys to detect buried infrastructure, the small-to-medium enterprises (SME) sought to adapt this technology for defence.
Silicon Microgravity is developing a gravimeter (a tool for measuring minute changes in the force of gravity) which the user can deploy remotely on an autonomous land vehicle or drones, to detect underground structures, keeping personnel out of danger zones.
The innovation uses resonant Micro Electrical Mechanical Systems (MEMS), which is a technological process that creates tiny integrated devices or systems that combine mechanical and electrical components.
MEMS has a long history in the civil world and is used in an array of technologies such as accelerometers for airbag sensors and inkjet printer heads, however; it has never had the sensitivity for use in navigation or gravity applications. Silicon Microgravity’s sensors are over a thousand times more accurate than those traditionally used in civilian applications.
Making the UK a technology superpower
The CEO of the company, Francis Neill, stated “[n]ot only does our technology have defence applications but it is very much in line with the UK’s strategy of creating an international technology superpower. DASA has provided both market and fund raising assistance in addition to the project specific funding.”
Private sector SMEs such as Silicon Microgravity are driving military innovation. These dual use technology solutions will enable the UK to leverage a competitive military advantage as the world enters the so-called ‘dangerous decade’.
The US Government Accountability Office has similarly identified the new face of this military-industrial relationship when it opined the need for the US Department of Defense (DoD) to level the playing field to allow SMEs to participate in its defence procurement process in April.