Case study: Bunker and tunnel detection innovation shines with support from Defence Innovation Loans

Innovate Uk

August 2
13:33 2023

  • The Defence Innovation Loan will help Cambridge-based SME, Silicon Microgravity, develop and commercialise their autonomous gravimeter technology for tunnel and bunker detection by the end of 2024.
  • DASA has also funded Silicon Microgravitys ultra-precise, gyroscope technology for alternative navigation in GPS denied environments.
  • DASAs Defence Innovation Loans, run in partnership with Innovate UK, 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 has long been identified as a challenge area for defence, in both asymmetric and symmetrical warfare, and recent conflicts have only highlighted the growing threat of underground structures. In order to better safeguard frontline personnel, the military needs to swiftly and efficiently detect sub-surface tunnels and bunkers to overcome potential adversaries who use them.

Despite their effectiveness, current tunnel detection methods such as ground penetrating radar and electromagnetics have several drawbacks. They are often bulky, costly, and challenging to apply in situations featuring difficult to navigate terrain, making them less efficient for quick, mobile use.

Introducing Silicon Microgravity

Cambridge-based 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 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 can be deployed 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 used to create 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, until now, the sensitivity for use in navigation or gravity applications. Silicon Microgravitys sensors are over a thousand times more accurate than those traditionally used in civilian applications.

Thanks to their proprietary resonant MEMS technology, Silicon Microgravity has achieved a significant breakthrough in sub-surface detection technology. The technique has enabled the company to miniaturise the technology from the size of a shoe box to a tiny computer chip. As a result, the SME has been able to attach the underground sensing technology to a handheld device, or a drone, which can easily navigate hazardous terrain, land, and take readings of underground structures beneath the surface.

In 2022, Silicon Microgravity received a Defence Innovation Loan to take the innovation towards commercialisation by the end of 2024.

Silicon Microgravitys journey with DASA and towards commercialisation

In 2017, Silicon Microgravity first collaborated with DASA through the Open Call, marking their first foray into the Defence sector. With DASAs funding, Silicon Microgravity completed a feasibility study and initial development on an ultra-precise gyroscope based on their resonant MEMS technology, a critical part of inertial measurement which is used in GPS-denied environments. This technology has applications both in military and civilian markets.

During their first discussions with DASA, they discovered the immense potential of their MEMS technology and its applicability to a wide range of defence-related solutions. Through the feasibility study as part the Open call, Silicon Microgravity was also able to develop links into the defence sector, engage with large defence contractors, and now has two development contracts with a large global defence contractor and is in active discussions with others, both within the UK and overseas.

Having further developed their resonant MEMS technology for gravity applications, Silicon Microgravity submitted their next innovation to DASA in 2021, to receive a Defence Innovation Loan to help commercialise their tunnel detection technology. The Cambridge-based SME was granted a Defence Innovation Loan of 750,000, which they will use to further develop the underground detection technology in preparation for field trials in the first half of 2024. The loan will also help commercialise the product, for potential use in applications such as security, border control, defence, cartography, civil engineering and infrastructures/utilities.

Francis Neill, CEO of Silicon Microgravity, said:

DASA have been absolutely fundamental in helping to get Silicon Microgravity to the stage where we will shortly be commercialising what is becoming recognised as world leading technology in gravity sensing and inertial navigation. Not only does our technology have defence applications but it is very much in line with the UKs strategy of creating an international technology superpower. DASA have provided both market and fund raising assistance in addition the project specific funding.

DASAs A2MF Team mentors Silicon Microgravity for future investment opportunities

As part of the post-contract support, DASAs Access to Mentoring and Finance (A2MF) team has been helping Silicon Microgravity with market readiness and future investment. The A2MF team assisted Silicon Microgravity in perfecting their pitch to potential investors by offering workshops to improve presentation content and pitch decks. This culminated in the DASA Investment Showcase in 2021, where Silicon Microgravity was invited to present their business and innovative ideas to investors, alongside other innovators.

Silicon Microgravity was able to secure additional investments and build belief in their project thanks to the invaluable experience and skills gained from the A2MF team, along with their successful application through Defence Innovation Loans.

Need help bringing your defence innovation to market?

Silicon Microgravity has made great strides in a short period of time and is preparing for an exciting year ahead, starting field trials, commercialising both their gravity and inertial products, building export markets, adding high value UK jobs and more than doubling revenue. Since their first meeting with DASA in 2017, they have made significant progress by conducting field trials, commercialising their innovation with the help of Defence Innovation Loans, attracting new investors, and expanding their organisation.

One of DASAs main financial mechanisms to support with business readiness and the commercialisation of innovations is through the Defence Innovation Loans programme. Run in partnership with Innovate UK, these are designed to help growth-minded SMEs develop and commercialise their mature defence solutions and in doing so, tackle some of the challenges businesses face in moving from technology development to product and company scale up.

Defence Innovation Loans Key points:

  • Exclusively for SMEs
  • Innovations must be at Technology Readiness Level 6 or above
  • Loans from 100,000 - 2 million
  • Loans can cover up to 100% of project costs to aid commercialisation of the solution
  • Below market interest rate
  • In partnership with Innovate UK

Learn more about Defence Innovation Loans here and submit an application.

Published 2 August 2023

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