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Developing life-saving 'last mile' tech for troops

University of Hull researchers are designing pioneering technology to get vital materiel to soldiers on the front line.

It's our response to a Ministry of Defence (MoD) challenge to industry and academia to come up with a way to use autonomous vehicles to supply troops in challenging environments.

More than 142 organisations - from small and medium-size enterprises to big defence contractors - submitted entries for the 'Last Mile' challenge, which is part of the MoD’s Innovation Initiative.

Just 25 projects were chosen. The University was one of only five organisations to win a bid to address the final part of the challenge: to autonomously predict, plan, track and optimise resupply demands from military users.

The Hull team had discussions with high-ranking military officers who detailed the specific requirements for such a system.

Nick Fletcher, Business Development Manager at the University’s Logistics Institute, said: “Although relatively small in distance, these resupply activities are challenging as they are in an environment that is typically hostile, complex and contested.

"In these situations, every second counts – and the MoD want to find a solution so soldiers are not having to break away from what is often a highly volatile situation or critical task to re-order supplies." Nick Fletcher
Business Development Manager, University of Hull

“At the moment the troops have to do it manually, radioing through what they are short of. In these situations, every second counts – and the MoD want to find a solution so soldiers are not having to break away from what is often a highly volatile situation or critical task to re-order supplies.

“We will create a robust, reliable system that can reassure units that a resupply is incoming. Our system will be dynamic and ever-changing to any obstacles that may be identified.

“It must have minimal human interaction and allow for a high amount of variability, supporting a multitude of scenarios.”

Specifically, the team will investigate ways of predicting when a unit need supplies. They will initially focus on food, ammunition, rations and medicine, before expanding the system.

The work will also look at finding the optimal route for the autonomous vehicle to reach troops. That will include functionality to change the route in response to unforeseen circumstances such as insurgent activity and firefights.

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