6 July 2021: Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris TD, and Minister for Defence and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney TD have today (Tuesday) announced a new SFI-Defence Organisation Innovation Challenge of €2.4m. Ten teams will compete for funding to develop disruptive solutions to key Defence Organisation challenges for use across the Defence Forces.

The Department of Defence and the Defence Forces make up the Defence Organisation, and have identified five challenges for researchers to explore solutions to:

  1. Enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the fire extinguishing capability of rotary-wing aircraft.
  2. Cyber-physical system to assist in, or potentially automate, manoeuvring of aircraft between a hangar and apron.
  3. Recovery of Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats (RHIBs) at sea.
  4. Prevention and detection of water ingress to vessels.
  5. Reduce the environmental impact of Defence Forces aircraft, land vehicles and vessels.

As part of this challenge, the Defence Organisation is also interested in disruptive ideas that incorporate the latest technological developments in fields like: Artificial Intelligence, Data Analytics, Robotics, Virtual, Augmented and Mixed Reality, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and Advanced Communications.

In a first for Ireland, the Challenge will see successful research teams from around Ireland connected and working with members of the Defence Forces to develop solutions to the challenges.

Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris TD commented on the launch: “I am delighted to launch a new challenge-based funding programme that will support Irish research, our Defence Forces and ultimately society.

“If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s taught us the value of research, and just how important the work of our scientists is. 

“We have seen how quickly science can move, and how powerful it is.  Our aim with this challenge is to harness that energy, put our scientists and the women and men of our Defence Forces together and accelerate technologies that have potential for use across our Defence Forces. 

“We have almost 2,000 aircraft, land vehicles and vessels in our fleet – imagine the impact we could have by reducing their effects on the environment.”

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Defence Simon Coveney TD, commenting on the initiative, said: “It is really encouraging to be able to launch this new innovation challenge that will support our Defence Forces.

“This initiative will result in new technologies that will support missions and capabilities aligned with national defence policy.  We have seen how challenge-based research can support different sectors of society and I am excited to see how it can support our Defence Forces.

“A key element of our recently launched Department of Defence and Defence Forces Strategy and the Defence Organisation RTI Unit is to increase our focus on Research, Innovation and Technology in support of Defence Forces capabilities and I see this as an important move towards that.”

Professor Mark Ferguson, Director General SFI and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland, said: “At SFI, we consider challenge‐based research funding to be of high strategic importance to Ireland, enabling talented teams to address significant national and global challenges.

“Fostering collaboration between Government Departments and agencies such as the Defence Forces, companies, researchers and entrepreneurs is of crucial importance if we are to ensure science plays its role in the development of our society and economy.  We are delighted to launch this new collaborative challenge to enhance the Defence Forces effectiveness and reduce its carbon footprint through research. I look forward to learning about the outcomes and to future challenge collaborations.”

The Challenge will consist of three phases:  Concept, Seed and Prize Award. Following application review, up to 10 successful teams will be awarded funding to undertake team building, scoping and concept validation activities. They will then undergo a rigorous progress review after 3 months and up to 5 shortlisted teams will be provided with further funding of €200k to validate and prototype their proposed solutions.  Finalists will compete for an overall prize award of €1m.