The Autonomous Systems Showcase

sotonuasLast week I attended the Autonomous Systems Showcase event at the University of Southampton. The focus of the event was to bring together industry, government and academia “to explore commercial and research opportunities to deliver the next generation of aerospace, marine, defence and other advanced systems technology to keep the UK at the forefront of these important industries“.

Minister of State for Universities and Science, David Willetts, delivered the opening keynote. Other speakers included Sir Brian Burridge, Vice President of Strategic Marketing at Finmeccanica UK, and Michael Pickwoad, Production Designer from Dr Who, who talked about his creative process and the relationship between science and fiction.

The event also included industry and university showcase stands with particular emphasis on the work Southampton has done, and is doing, around unmanned aerial vehicles and underwater devices.

Overall I think it was a great event, completely packed with all the main UAS people there as far as I could see. This is just a random collection of things that stuck with me.

Common themes

  • Autonomous systems are still a long way away. We currently have, and are, developing very advanced systems and platforms. But these are highly automatic. Not autonomous. The Ultra self driving pods in use at Heathrow are one example, nothing autonomous about them (they are fully laser guided) but highly automatic.
  • Even if you manage autonomy how on earth are you going to certify it? The word autonomy should be avoided in any certification context.
  • The interesting challenge & future is not with platforms but with networked systems of systems.

Other notes

  • The AAD KTN has republished a market research report on autonomous systems and came up with a £265b market opportunity. 
  • The TSB has innovation vouchers and smart grants to help you kickstart your business
  • Some good vision from my previous boss on the future of 3D electronics and 3D printing. A large £3.5m grant was won by the university and expect to see some good work here. Slides below:
  • There was also a nice overview presentation from the robotics/UUV guy from the National Oceanography Centre who oversees the maintenance of the UKs research UUV & USV capability. Some very nice technology there.
  • Blue Bear talked about some interesting work combining ideas from the Chicken camera stabiliser and chameleon eyes.. They also showed of a nice bird inspired concept but with hard to believe efficiency gains and of dubious practical value.
  • The Bristol Robotics lab run a European Robotics Innovation Facility. I.e., state of the art robotics equipement and UAV testing areas which you can gain access to. You can also get students to work on projects through the FARSCOPE programme. Nice initiatives.
  • NATEP is a new funding route “aimed at aerospace supply chain companies including small and medium sized suppliers to help them develop their own innovative technologies while enhancing their technology management capabilities, thus increasing their ability to win new business with higher tier companies anywhere in the world.”
  • Gerry Corbett did his usual state of the union on the current state of CAA regulations. Captured the current situation very well (slides below). Three interesting things he mentioned:
    • he did not expect UAS integration anytime before the 2028 timeframe
    • an update to CAP 722 was in the works
    • there are ~200 UAV operators operating in the UK but these are all relatively small scale and there is a low barrier to entry with little regulation (within the bounds set). However, when more formal UAV regulations get pushed out with more certification requirements many of these companies may suddenly find it hard to remain in operation or, as he said it, “move to the next level” given how expensive compliance is going to be.


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