The UK’s ability to produce novel and innovative computing is vital for providing solutions to challenges related to national security and defence. 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 National Security Technology and Innovation Exchange and UK government partners, are inviting applications to attend a joint sandpit. This will deliver new, innovative, multidisciplinary and transformative approaches for low SWaP computing solutions.
While no prior involvement with the defence or national security sector is required, it is our intention that participants at the sandpit will be attracted to remain engaged with the defence and national security sectors. They will also 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 5 days.
Participants for this sandpit will be invited from a broad range of disciplines including, but not limited to:
- computer science
- physical sciences
- social sciences
It is important that academics from a range of disciplines work together on the challenges being tackled, ensuring that adoption of these technologies is also 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 consider co-design with end-users
- form new collaborations between researchers, innovators and users in diverse research areas
- create new and transformative research ideas in low SWaP computing, 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, Professor Tony Kenyon (University College London), 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
As we move towards the end of Moore’s law and focus on reaching net zero emissions, as a society we need to find new approaches for increasingly powerful next-generation and generation-after-next computational tools and techniques.
One of the government’s key drivers is the need to tackle and reduce the environmental impact that will arise from computational power consumption. This consumption accounted for between 4 and 6% of the global electricity use in 2020, and is expected to increase further by 2030. Find out more about UK Parliament: energy consumption of information and communication technology.
Current technology trends see devices being connected to the cloud, with either a constant mains power supply or, if battery powered, optimised for daily recharging.
In critical computational systems, such as those used in defence and national security applications, it is not always possible for a device to be cloud connected or to receive a reliable, unconstrained supply of power. This leads to a loss in operative performance.
Communication with the cloud also introduces privacy risks with the potential for data interception. These challenges provide significant opportunities to develop new technologies for this sector.
This sandpit activity intends to bring together new collaborators from across a range of disciplines in UKRI’s remit to solve complex and evolving research challenges within low SWaP computing for defence and national security applications.
Alignment of technologies in computing, sensing and communications, has the potential to enhance functionality and performance whilst reducing resource usage to deliver against low SWaP objectives and net zero aspirations. This can be done by performing data processing, decision making and data storage at the site where decisions need to be made.
We are aiming to engage participants from a variety of disciplines to consider the algorithmic, software, architecture and hardware aspects required for these low SWaP novel computing applications. This includes, but is not limited to, those with expertise in the computer science domain and of:
- decision making
- embedded intelligence
- power electronics
- responsible innovation
Participants at the sandpit will be introduced to a number of security and defence scenarios by government users of technology from across related government departments. A flavour of some of the key challenges which may be addressed at the sandpit include:
- how can we deliver greater edge processing capability, while maintaining functionality and meeting our net zero and low SWaP aspirations in remote and challenging environments?
- how can we maximise the information gained and processed by devices or sensors with limited processing capability, whilst potentially experiencing significant uncertainty and deception?
- how can we ensure systems can adapt to changes in remote environments and aid dynamic risk identification, whilst remaining robust and operable with high performance?
- how can we take inspiration from nature and biology to develop novel computing for low SWaP applications, which work in these scenarios?
- what techniques can we use to preserve privacy whilst achieving robust and reliable data transmission in a complex scenarios?
It is expected that 3 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.