Funding competition Subsea autonomous systems: next generation technologies

Individuals can apply to join a 5-day collaborative workshop to develop proposals for autonomous subsea systems that can significantly improve mission duration, sensing and communications.

This competition is now closed.

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Competition sections


The Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund’s Robots for a Safer World challenge, through Innovate UK, (as part of UK Research and Innovation), is collaborating with the Ministry of Defence and The Royal Navy, the Oil & Gas Technology Centre, BP, and the Oil & Gas Authority. Together they will invest up to £6 million, from a cross government and industry joint fund, in collaborative business led projects.

Participants are sought to develop collaborative projects in next generation autonomous subsea systems, which improve levels of autonomy, sensor miniaturisation, mission planning, monitoring, communications, navigation, data management and operations together with improved endurance in the water column up to 3,000 metres deep.

The challenge is to develop next generation subsea autonomous system technologies, which are modular in design with common interfaces and open architectures. Approaches should make trusted unmanned operations the standard approach in areas such as off-shore energy, aquafarming, deep sea mineral exploration and maritime defensive security operations.

In this competition, individuals can apply to take part, on behalf of their organisation, in a 5-day collaborative residential workshop known as the Innovation Lab. It will run from 20 April 2020 to and from 24 April 2020 dates. The attendees will form project teams and work together to develop collaborative proposals for research and innovation projects that deliver concept demonstrators.

After the Innovation Lab project teams will have 4 weeks to finalise their proposals before submitting them for competitive assessment. Only Innovation Lab participants will be eligible to submit final proposals.

Funding type


Project size

The project you design at the Innovation Lab is expected to have total costs between £1.5 million and £3 million.

Who can apply

Innovation Lab phase

To apply to attend the Innovation Lab you must:

  • commit to attending all 5 days on a residential basis at the nominated UK location
  • show you can work collaboratively and have the relevant skills, expertise and experience to represent your organisation
  • be from an organisation that is eligible to submit a project proposal
  • describe the financial and other resources your organisation can commit

If you are successful in your application you will need to sign a confidentiality agreement and return it before attending the Innovation Lab. This is to protect existing intellectual property (IP) and to allow full disclosure of expertise and capabilities at the Innovation Lab.

Your application to attend will be considered by a selection panel, consisting of the Innovation Lab director and independent assessors, one of whom is an organisational psychologist.

The assessment panel will look for evidence that you have:

  • an open, engaging, flexible, imaginative and creative outlook
  • the ability to develop new and highly original innovative ideas
  • the ability to work constructively with people of diverse disciplines
  • the stamina and enthusiasm needed to work with strangers intensively over 5 days away from home

Project proposal phase

A panel, consisting of mentors and funders, will run an assessment process on the last day of the Innovation Lab. They will use consistent assessment criteria to decide which teams will be allowed to submit final written project proposals.

Project teams will then have up to 4 weeks to submit final proposals via our Innovation Funding Service (IFS) portal after the end of the Innovation Lab.

To be eligible to submit a project proposal after the Innovation Lab your organisation must:

  • be a UK registered business, academic, charity, public sector organisation or RTO who attended the Innovation Lab
  • carry out its project work in the UK
  • intend to exploit the results from the UK
  • work in collaboration with others (businesses, research base or third sector)
  • involve at least one micro, small or medium-sized enterprise (SME)

A business must lead the project. Any one business can lead on one application and partner in a further 2 applications. Academics and RTOs can collaborate in any number of applications.

The research organisations collaborating as part of a consortium can share up to 30% of the total eligible project costs. If your consortium contains more than one research organisation, this maximum will be shared between them.

Your project can also include non-grant claiming partners.

The project must start by September 2020 and be completed by 31 March 2022.

If you applied to a previous competition as the lead or sole company and were awarded funding by Innovate UK but did not make a substantial effort to exploit that award, we will award no more funding to you, in this or any other competition. You will not be able to contest our decision. We will:

  • assess your efforts in the previous competition against your exploitation plan for that project
  • review the monitoring officers’ reports and any other relevant sources for evidence
  • document our decision, which will be made by 3 team members, and communicate our decision to you in writing


We have allocated up to £6 million to fund projects developed based on Innovation Lab proposals. We expect each project to have total costs between £1.5 million and £3 million.

The funders will pay your residential and subsistence costs to attend the Innovation Lab, excluding alcohol. You must pay your travel costs to and from the Innovation Lab. You can discuss other costs with Innovate UK and these will be considered on a case-by-case basis. You will not be paid for Innovation Lab attendance or proposal development.

It is expected that only organisations being represented at the Innovation Lab will be eligible to receive grant funding. The inclusion of new project partners not attending the Innovation Lab will be by exception and after agreement with the funders.

Your Innovation Lab application

The aim of the Innovation Lab is to generate innovative and commercially viable new ideas.

We will take a portfolio approach to selecting candidates for the Innovation Lab. We want to include a broad range of disciplines, technologies and approaches that will bring together people who would not normally work together, ensuring the equality, diversity and inclusion of participants.

The process and activities within the Innovation Lab may be unconventional, challenging and unexpected. By submitting an application you are agreeing to take part fully, enthusiastically and constructively.

Your project proposal

The project proposals created during the event and submitted in the project proposal phase competition can be for industrial research or experimental development leading to the development of a concept demonstrator.

Your proposal must focus on solutions that:

  • aim to make autonomous unmanned future systems the standard for offshore subsea operations, including navigating, sensing and communicating processed information
  • operate in an enhanced collaborative inter-platform environment with other manned and autonomous platforms all operating within the water column up to 3,000 metres
  • operate in environments such as off-shore energy, other areas of the blue economy, defence, and ideally in more than one
  • operate safely, efficiently, over long periods of time without human intervention and without maintenance
  • be modular in design with common interfaces and open architectures, and follow all appropriate industrial standards and system engineering principles

Your proposal must also:

  • quantify how the solution can be commercialised
  • include testing and demonstration in realistic scenarios or environments during and upon completion of the project
  • address regulatory or safety issues and constraints, providing a clear indication how these can or will be addressed/demonstrated

Specific themes

Your project must help develop one or more of the following.

Power and communications:

  • intelligent or power conditioning and usage
  • different forms of fuel for autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) to increase mission length and decrease operation cost
  • hybrid fuel cells for AUVs
  • longer duration power cells
  • subsea recharge facilities
  • hot-swappable power systems
  • network standardisation enabling communications across different sensors and platforms
  • open architecture, interoperability and interchangeability
  • multiple assets working collaboratively controlled from a single operator
  • multimodal communications including acoustic, optical and optical laser

Sensing, detection, navigation and data processing:

  • improved ability to detect and more authoritatively classify objects
  • improved digital imagery techniques to visualise and measure underwater objects.
  • monitoring of wall thickness loss in exposed and buried pipelines
  • navigation in a Global Positioning System (GPS) and communications denied environments
  • low size weight and power (SWAP) sensors with complex processing at the sensor
  • ability to fuse information from different sensors to provide a complete picture of the underwater environment, including potential threats
  • development of multi mission sensors and payloads
  • data fusion to integrate subsurface, subsea and surface data to enhance operations and capability

Deployment and modularity:

  • deployment mechanisms for platforms which are sea state agnostic
  • platform to platform communications with very low probabilities of intercept
  • platforms with high levels of design modularity to enhance system flexibility, facilitate platform reconfiguration as required, and provide multi-mission capability including hot-swappable systems
  • increased levels of interoperability through commonality of systems, mission planning systems and commonality of interfaces.
  • pipeline inspection from landfall to landfall, in other words the full range of water depths
  • greater capacity in AUV to enhance their ability to conduct the robust, repeatable, deployable and long-endurance payload-agnostic carriage of multiple payloads in austere near surface and sub-surface environments
  • commonality across operating platforms
  • standardisation of interfacing equipment


  • greater autonomy for AUVs to operate independently from operators, increasingly able to cross-communicate and self-task to fulfil their mission(s), including both static point and mobile area operations, with high-confidence, low-impact transits to and from required locations through complex environments.
  • intelligent pre-mission planning to increase deployment speed of multi-platform operations and reduce operator workload
  • enhanced decision-making capabilities for unmanned platforms to enable more efficient missions
  • dynamic reaction to changes in data and environment for example tracking or mission routing and rerouting
  • increased use of machine learning and digital twinning techniques
  • support current programmes

Research categories

Projects emerging from the Innovation Lab must match the Innovate UK research and development categories.

Industrial research projects can claim funding for your eligible project costs of:

  • up to 70% if you are a small business
  • up to 60% if you are a medium-sized business
  • up to 50% if you are a large business

For experimental development projects which are nearer to market, you could get funding for your eligible project costs of:

  • up to 45% if you are a small business
  • up to 35% if you are a medium-sized business
  • up to 25% if you are a large business

Find out if your business fits the EU definition of an SME.

Projects we will not fund

We are not expecting to fund fundamental research projects.

We will not fund:

  • projects which do not include a demonstration of the output solution in a representative environment
  • projects that are unwilling to participate in a technology showcase aimed at promoting the commercialisation of the funded solution
  • in-service systems or platforms

14 January 2020
Competition opens
23 January 2020
London briefing event
23 January 2020
Online briefing event
30 January 2020
Scotland briefing event
12 February 2020 2:00pm
Competition closes
13 March 2020 9:41am
Applicants notified
20 March 2020
Deadline for accepting Innovation Lab place
20 April 2020
Innovation Lab begins
20 April 2020
Phase 2 opens
24 April 2020
Innovation Lab ends
22 May 2020
Phase 2 closes

Before you start

Please read the general guidance for grant applicants. It will help your chances of submitting a quality application.

When you start an application, you will be prompted to create an account. You will need an account to track the progress of your application.

If more than one person is applying for the Innovation Lab from the same organisation, each person must create a separate account. Each applicant will be assessed on their own merit. We reserve the right to limit attendance at the Innovation Lab to one person from each organisation. We will make this decision at the assessment stage.

If you plan to take part in the Innovation Lab you must submit your application yourself. If someone else makes an application on your behalf it will be ineligible.

What we will ask you

The application is split into 2 sections:

1. Project details.

2. Application questions.

Project details

Application details

For the project title enter ‘Not applicable’.

For the start date enter ‘January 2020’ and for the duration enter ‘12 months’. For research category please enter ‘Industrial research’.

These fields are mandatory. You will not be scored on the answers you provide.

2. Application questions

Question 1. Background

Outline your professional background and current job or position. Describe 1 or 2 high points of your career.

Your answer can be up to 200 words long.

Question 2. Subject knowledge

How do you see robotics evolving over the next 10 years? Where do you fit in the spectrum of opinions between robotics being semi-autonomous with human interaction, to being fully autonomous using solely artificial intelligence control?

Your answer can be up to 100 words long.

Question 3. Expertise and interests

The aim of the Innovation Lab is to generate innovative and commercially viable new ideas. How do you see your expertise and interests contributing to achieving the specific themes of the Innovation Lab?

Your answer can be up to 200 words long.

Question 4. Teamwork

What is your approach to teamwork? What do you regard as your strengths?

Your answer can be up to 100 words long.

Question 5. Communication skills

How would you explain your area of interest to individuals with different expertise to your own?

Your answer can be up to 100 words long.

Question 6. Innovation Lab

The Innovation Lab is especially suited to individuals who can step outside their own area of expertise or interest, are positively driven, enjoy creative activity and can think innovatively. It is an intensive setting requiring you to develop new approaches with individuals you may not know. How do you consider yourself suited?

Your answer can be up to 100 words long.

Question 7. Benefits to you and your organisation

What do you and your organisation hope to gain from taking part in the Innovation Lab?


  • details of why you want to take part and what benefit you expect for your organisation
  • details of how you will get the necessary authority to commit your organisation to a project
  • a statement of the financial or other resource your organisation may be willing to commit to a successful project (including provision of appropriate specialised facilities if you have them)

Your answer can be up to 200 words long.

Question 8. Commitment

If selected, you must attend all 5 days of the Innovation Lab without interruption. Do you and your organisation commit to this? Please answer yes or no.

Background and further information

This award is funded through Innovate UK, as part of UK Research and Innovation, collaborating with The Royal Navy, MoD, the Oil & Gas Technology Centre, BP and the Oil & Gas Authority. It is delivered through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) Robots for a Safer World Challenge. It must align with one or more of the following top-level objectives of the Industrial Strategy:

  • increased UK business investment in R&D and improved R&D capability and capacity
  • increased multi- and inter-disciplinary research around the challenge areas
  • increased business-academic collaboration on innovation activities relating to the challenge areas
  • increased collaboration between younger, smaller companies and larger, more established companies up the value chain
  • develop robotic solutions to make a safer working environment
  • increase productivity
The Innovation Lab will consist of:

  • a director
  • 20 to 30 participants, who are expected to contribute fully and constructively
  • a team of mentors to help the director assess participants and provide objective advice, feedback and input
  • Innovation Lab facilitators to design the activities and schedule sessions
  • independent stakeholders with real experience of the challenge

The Innovation Lab process will include:

  • evolving a common language, terminology and concept of operations
  • sharing understanding of the challenges, and benefitting from one another’s expertise
  • taking part in break-out sessions, using creative thinking techniques
  • capturing outputs as highly innovative research project ideas
  • forming new consortia that would not otherwise have had the potential to develop

The venue will be accessible both in terms of links to public transport and personal facilities. Its facilities will help balance working and down time. All rooms will be single and have en-suite facilities. If you have particular needs please contact the Programme Manager through the Innovate UK Customer Support Service and these will be considered on a case by case basis.

Requests for dietary needs will be circulated before attendance.

During the Innovation lab the mentors and facilitators will help participants to build and review the emerging project proposals. A formal review with the mentors will take place on the final day of the Innovation lab to identify project proposals suitable for final submission. The teams will have 4 weeks after the Innovation Lab to finalise their proposals and agree them with their organisations before submitting through the IFS portal.

An Innovation Lab is an intensive way to form new ideas and collaborations. It may not be suitable for all individuals and organisations. If you are looking for other opportunities to help us explore this challenge, you could visit our competitions listing page and apply for:

  • future opportunities to lead or collaborate through the Innovate UK ISCF challenges and briefing events run with the Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN)
  • future SMART competitions for complementary projects that enhance or support the work in extreme environments
  • future missions
  • future showcase events
  • wider robotic and AI activities through UK Research and Innovation
  • wider robotics activities through the UK Defence Solutions Centre and the Royal - Navy – ‘Navy X’
  • wider activities through the oil and gas sector, offshore energy, offshore renewable energy and aquafarming supply chains

Extra help

If you need more information, contact the competition helpline on 0300 321 4357 or email us at

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