MoD backs bunker and tunnel detection microgravity technology

Image of a Cold War bunker in Ukraine to illustrate microgravity technology story
Image: 30949258 © Emevil |

Frontline military personnel will find it easier and safer to detect underground bunkers and tunnels with microgravity technology developed by a spin-out from Cambridge University.

Current tunnel detection methods such as ground penetrating radar and electromagnetics have several drawbacks, according to the Defence and Security Accelerator backing the microgravity technology. They are often bulky, costly and challenging to apply in situations featuring difficult-to-navigate terrain, making them less efficient for quick, mobile use.

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 workers out of danger zones.

The innovation uses resonant micro electrical mechanical systems (MEMS): 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 can be found in the likes of 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 Microgravity’s sensors are more than a thousand times more accurate than those traditionally used in civilian applications.

Miniaturised technology

Silicon Microgravity has miniaturised the technology from the size of a shoe box to a 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 and take readings of underground structures beneath the surface.

Silicon Microgravity has been granted a defence innovation loan of £750,000, which it 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.

Silicon Microgravity was selected to join the fifth round of HS2’s start-up incubator last year.

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