Mr Cameron Williamson,
Research & Development Engineer,
MacTaggart Scott & Co. Ltd.
Over the next 10 years what will be the most significant areas for development in military and civil technology?
Developments in autonomous or semi-autonomous systems will lead to increases in efficiency and precision of control systems, allowing a reduction in the required operating personnel. This is already having an impact on a huge range of areas, from simplified flight controls of commercially available multirotor aircraft, to precision control of robotic surgery tools through tele‑manipulation. Although there are potentially huge benefits to these advancements, it may also lead to questions on the safety of human integration with autonomous systems and the possible risks of autonomous management of safety‑critical equipment.
With the rapid introduction of new technologies in mass consumer markets there are challenges not only old technology but old ideas; and there are open questions - how are these technological developments impacting on defence and security capabilities?
A simple example is the huge progression in mobile phones over the last decade. Although the actual mobile phone technology is only of peripheral interest to the defence industry, the mass development and production of cameras, accelerometers, gyroscopes and digital compasses have improved the standard of available equipment significantly. This shift where the highest budget research and development is now carried out by commercial industry may allow the defence industry to capitalise on improvements on relevant technology with less initial outlay.
There is a focus on achieving advances in miniaturisation, robotics and artificial intelligence and the exploitation of big data which have the potential to generate revolutionary change – do you think this focus is correct and where do you think we can expect to see the most rapid developments?
I think that these technologies deserve the attention they are receiving, although it is important to also continue to invest in traditional areas such as electric motors, hydraulics, and other mechanical equipment, to ensure they keep up with the advancements.
I think that machine learning coupled with big data is likely to yield the most rapid developments due to the existing importance of data capture and analysis in many areas of defence equipment. This will hopefully lead to improvements in the technical and tactical value of data being presented to an operator.
There is a growing demand from the user community for practical and pragmatic change, based on rapid development and experimentation from industry – do you think this demand is fair and what can we expect to see as a result?
The defence industry has traditionally been slow to embrace new technology when an existing proven solution exists. While this comes from a sensible, safety focussed standpoint it may lead to slower improvements. I think it is important that the defence and security industry takes a pragmatic approach to develop and embrace emergent technologies that currently have a low technical readiness level in the underwater engineering environment.
Can you give us a brief insight into the areas your session will be covering?
My session will cover improvements that can be made in large scale linear actuators through the implementation of modern high power electric motors and associated control capabilities. This has traditionally been difficult to implement, due to the extreme forces involved in submarine control surface actuation. I will discuss the approach taken by MacTaggart Scott to assess, mitigate and manage these.
What can delegates expect to take away from your session?
Delegates will learn how large scale electric linear actuators can be implemented in future submarines and the further reaching improvements associated with this development.
One advantage is a potential reduction in manpower, through the removal of hydraulic equipment. Assuming this was a boat-wide decision, there would no longer be a need for hydraulic engineers on the crew, saving money and crew capacity.
On top of this, it is possible that an electric solution would offer greater control, through a high response rate and improved feedback. There is also potential for energy regeneration or capture, if this becomes attractive to future submarine builders.