The ASTRAEA partners (BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce, Thales, EADS, Cobham, QinetiQ and AOS) announced last month that the ASTRAEA programme (Autonomous Systems Technology Related Airborne Evaluation & Assessment – www.astraea.aero) will continue while the second phase of the programme awaits an official announcement from the UK government on financial support.
This is important news for AOS UK because the company was the only SME in ASTRAEA 1 (see November 2008 news item), and its unique role, providing autonomous capabilities and expertise to its giant corporate partners, will expand in ASTRAEA 2.
Indications of government support for ASTRAEA are certainly promising, especially in light of the annual Whittle Lecture, presented last month at the Royal Aeronautical Society by Minister for Innovation, Lord Drayson. In his address, Lord Drayson acknowledged the obstacles that governments tend to place on innovative technology, using as examples Frank Whittle’s mid-1930s jet engine and Australian engineer Lancelot De Mole’s 1912 armoured vehicle that ran on treads (i.e. a tank). Both, he said, were repeatedly rejected.
Lord Drayson went on to say that the government must face the difficult issue of “…giving the right backing at the right time and for an appropriate length of time to disruptive technologies; no longer to solo inventors like Whittle or De Mole, but to support the most promising ideas that can drive forward key sectors like aerospace.” He also said a top priority in the Ministry of Defence’s Defence Technology Plan is “…exploiting new concepts in unmanned air vehicles and unmanned combat vehicles.”
Lord Drayson’s role in the new Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) includes an overview of defence innovation and he describes his job as “…above all – to champion science and engineering across Government.”
So, government support definitely exists for promoting science and technology but it’s still ‘wait-and-see’ re levels of funding that will be made available for different sectors. In the meantime, however, the ASTRAEA 2 programme is moving ahead.