Eight Innovative Technologies Being Developed by BAE Systems

By Spencer Hart on at

When BAE Systems (BAES) isn't manufacturing formidable military vehicles such as the awesome Astute-class submarine, they're developing technical innovations that revolutionise engineering and space, as well as the battlefield. We've collected eight of the most exciting future technologies BAES is working on to keep the UK at the forefront of innovation.

1.) Virtual Reality

We're all aware virtual reality is the future of gaming, right? But BAES are applying this technology to solve problems in the engineering of maritime vessels as well. Once a complete CAD model of a ship has been created, it's shown in the 'visualisation suite', a small cinema which features a 3D screen, where designers, engineers or stakeholders can walk through a life-size virtualisation of the ship and explore every single part.

For example, a Captain can assess the view from the bridge, while an engineer can highlight possible manufacturing problems. All this can be done before a single physical model is created, saving money and reducing lead times. BAES are currently using the system to develop Offshore Patrol Vessels and the Type 26 frigate for the Royal Navy.

2.) Invisibility Cloak

BAE Systems have made Harry Potter's invisibility cloak a reality (well, sort of), by allowing military vehicles to manoeuvre completely undetectable by hostile thermal imaging systems. The technology, called 'Adaptiv', uses honeycomb-shaped modules which adapt their temperature very quickly to match their surroundings. Each panel can be individually operated, allowing different patterns to be created. This enables the vehicle to mimic heat signatures of other objects, such as cows, cars or rocks.

3.) Rosetta Space Probe

BAE Systems was tasked with designing a smartphone-like system that would enable the European Space Agency to communicate with, and control, the Rosetta Space Probe from 500 million kilometres away. Known as the Intermediate Frequency Modem System (IFMS), it's capable of measuring the probe's speed to within fractions of a millimetre per second.

The system uses triangulation between two ground stations to determine its location to within a metre anywhere in the Solar System. For now it'll continue to receive the awesome pictures Rosetta is taking, but come 12th of November the IFMS will guide the billion-quid probe as it lands on comet 67P.

4.) 3D Printing

You've probably seen a novelty 3D printed dress or two, but BAES is using 3D printing to revolutionise how aircraft parts are manufactured. 3D Printing is used throughout the manufacturing process at BAES, from rapid prototyping to flying parts.

In collaboration with Cranfield University, BAES has produced one of the largest 3D printed objects in the UK, a titanium spar section measuring 1.2 metres. The manufacturing process also offers great cost benefits: for example, a radio cover in a Tornado can be manufactured in one day for £100, saving around £1.2 million over four years.

5.) Pilotless Planes

Forget Google's driverless cars, pilotless planes are already being developed at BAES. The 'Flying Testbed' is much more than a commercial airliner's autopilot system as well, it's a unique Jetstream aircraft which flies like a UAV. The plane is capable of sensing and avoiding hazardous weather, other aircraft, and also includes the ability to make a controlled emergency landing.

In April 2013, BAES was the first company to combine all of these systems in a single flight through shared airspace, which ran from Warton, Lancashire to Inverness, Scotland.

6.) Rehabilitation Assistance

Bedflex is a simple, yet hugely liberating device that allows patients to exercise independently in their own beds without the assistance of physiotherapist. It was developed as part of BAES' Apprentice Innovation Challenge, which aims at helping charities and their service users.

The design allows therabands to be secured to an anchor point, reducing the chances of the band slipping or coming undone. Bedflex won the 'Make It Great Britain Challenge' and is expected to undergo further testing in Birmingham's Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

7.) 21st Century Armour

Soldiers are wearing stronger and better-connected armour than ever before, partly thanks to developments in technology by BAES. The Ultra Lightweight Warrior system weighs 35 per cent less than traditional systems, helping reduce fatigue on soldiers. The armour also includes an integrated power system (IPS) which allows soldiers to charge multiple devices, from radios to laptops. Liquid armour is made from 'bullet proof custard', a revolutionary liquid which absorbs the force of the bullet by instantly thickening on impact.

But they're not the only tricks hidden up the sleeve of a modern soldier: by using antennas woven into their uniforms, soldiers are more connected than ever; helmet-mounted action cameras can live-stream whatever the soldier sees; a smartphone-type device mounted on the forearm can display the real-time location of your allies.

Last but not least, HEADS has also been developed by BAES to protect the troops. The company's Headborne Energy Analysis and Diagnostic System is a small sensor located in the helmet which records the severity of impacts to the skull. This allows medics to identify potential head trauma victims before they show any symptoms.

8.) Electronic Microbugs

As part of a £23 million deal with the US Army Research Laboratory, BAE Systems is leading research in micro-robotics. Known as MAST (Micro Autonomous Technology Alliance), the program is developing tiny robots based on spiders, snakes and dragonflies which will be used as reconnaissance tools. Gamers might recognise similar tech being used in Black Ops II, where players took control of Ziggy, a small robotic spider.