Students Staff

22 August 2008

Team swarms to success

Colchester Campus

Renzo de Nardi with a quadrotor

The Department of Computing and Electronic Systems Engineering has played a major role in securing a top award at a Ministry of Defence (MoD) competition.

The MoD Grand Challenge 2008 is a science and technology competition providing an opening into the UK defence market for new suppliers and investors. The challenge is to create a system with a high degree of autonomy that can detect, identify, locate and report a comprehensive range of military threats in an urban environment.

The challenge was open to applications from the UK science and technology base, large and small companies, research laboratories and academic science faculties.

Eleven teams battled it out infront of a panel of MoD judges, including Team Swarm, which involved collaboration with a number of partners including the University.

Team Swarm, led by the entrepreneur Stephen Crampton, had spent the last year developing a swarm of small quadrotors (Owls) able to navigate through an urban environment while taking high resolution photographs of potential threats. Essex PhD student Renzo de Nardi, working closely with Essex graduate Richard Newcombe, currently a PhD student at Imperial College, developed the Owls' sophisticated navigation and control system as a spin-off from his PhD research, in which he is studying the problems involved in controlling swarms of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

The Team secured the title of most innovative idea. Renzo's supervisor, Professor Owen Holland, who acted as a robotics consultant to Team Swarm, said: ‘This is a tremendous achievement for Renzo and Richard. It shows that university-based innovations and skills can really compete with the best from industry.’

For further information please contact the University of Essex communications office on 01206 874377 or e-mail

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