London’s first defense tech hackathon brings Ukraine war closer to the city’s startups

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Last week, nan UK announced its largest ever subject support package for Ukraine. The measure takes nan U.K.’s full support for this financial twelvemonth to £3 cardinal — not rather nan $50 cardinal nan US pledged recently, but still substantial.

But while astir of those costs will beryllium spent connected very accepted subject hardware, a caller tech inaugural launched past play was aimed astatine enhancing Ukraine’s asymmetric warfare capabilities against Russia. In fact, nan London Defense Tech Hackathon was nan first-ever arena to bring together immoderate of nan UK’s brightest minds successful technology, task capital, and nationalist information successful a subject setting. The thought was to hack together ideas to some assistance Ukraine and besides to create a acold much porous furniture betwixt nan worlds of fast-paced civilian tech and nan very different world of nan military. 

Put together by Alex Fitzgerald of Skyral and Richard Pass of Future Forces, nan 2 were joined by co-organizers that included nan Honourable Artillery Company,  Apollo Defense, Lambda Automata and D3 VC among others.

The arena brought together developers skilled successful some hardware and package to foster invention successful defense, nationalist security, and deeptech. There was a cardinal attraction connected drones and their applications connected nan battlefield, some nan hardware and nan physics systems needed to alert them to their targets and counter-drone systems. 

As astir observers of nan warfare person pointed out, this warfare has taken connected a wholly caller magnitude compared to erstwhile wars. Today, drones and physics countermeasures are nan bid of nan day, arsenic Ukraine has endeavored to conflict disconnected Russia, a overmuch larger aggressor, pinch asymmetric methods. 

Fitzgerald told me: “There are 3 groups of group coming to these events. There’s nan builders, investors, and nan military. I deliberation for everyone, it’s trying to person their colleagues to deliberation much astir defense exertion arsenic an action to either build aliases put in.”

He explained that location were 2 main tracks of work: physics warfare and drone aliases aerial systems: “There’s an acronym I learned from personification cleverer than me, which is that nan early of defense technologies comes small, cheap  and uncrewed.”

He explained that 1 main purpose was to get group who had traditionally not been progressive successful defense either building for aliases investing successful defense: “We’ve sewage group for illustration nan NATO Innovation Fund, nan UK National Security Strategic Investment Fund. So yeah, it’s a operation of group who already put successful defense aliases who haven’t thought astir investing before.”

He chose nan hackathon format because “the attraction is connected getting worldly done. Get existent builders, not to conscionable talk astir building, because that’s really wherever astir of nan invention is happening.”

One of nan inspirations for nan arena was nan caller El Segundo, Calif., defense tech hackathon in February of this year.

“I deliberation nan cardinal point pinch subject exertion is making it arsenic easy to usage and arsenic powerful arsenic immoderate of nan the user exertion that’s been built,” said Fitzgerald “There’s nan classical line, ‘There’s much AI successful a threat successful Snapchat than location is often immoderate astir modern subject systems.'” 

Also attending nan arena was Catarina Buchatskiy, representing Apollo DefenseAs engineers pored complete cameras, Starlinks, and drones, she told me: “Defense tech is simply a difficult manufacture to enter. And it’s a difficult marketplace to break into, for evident reasons. We’ve recovered Hackathons an highly breathtaking measurement for group to get progressive because defense exertion tin look for illustration a elephantine achromatic container of contracts that return 10 years, and technologies that are built [are often] hidden from nan nationalist eye. At a hackathon, you person 24 hours. Make thing really cool.”

Interceptor done

Interceptor done

She said nan patient had seen “a batch of success” pinch nan El Segundo event.  

“We conscionable realized that if group deliberation it’s thing that’s accessible to them [and] tin do thing quickly and make an impact, they want to participate,” she told me.

Buchatskiy, who is Ukrainian, besides said powerfully astir Ukraine: “These are very existent things to me. When I opportunity that I request a drone detector, it’s because I’m looking astatine 1 extracurricular my model that we didn’t observe successful clip and it is going to termination my neighbor. That is nan reality that we face.”

She added that it’s important for hackathon attendees to cognize “that they’re building for personification and this could really prevention my family’s life.”

Despite nan contention surrounding defense exertion successful immoderate quarters, she added, “To beryllium progressive successful exertion is to beryllium willing successful a amended future. And I really, genuinely can’t deliberation of a much absorbing and amended early than 1 that’s safe and 1 wherever we tin guarantee peace.”

NATO, successful nan style of nan NATO Investment Fund, a money pinch a cardinal euros to put successful defense tech complete nan adjacent fewer years, was besides represented. 

Fund partner Patrick Schneider-Sikorsky told maine nan money was group up to backmost startups “that bolster our corporate defense information and resilience. We put successful dual-use heavy tech, but nan money was conceived earlier nan warfare successful Ukraine. The conflict has now very overmuch impacted our finance thesis and we’re keen to put successful defense technologies that tin make Europe safer and much secure.”

But why was NATO backing a hackathon?

“I deliberation defense tech is caller to a batch of a batch of founders and a batch of developers,” Schneider-Sikorsky said. “It’s not that easy for them to understand nan problem statements and nan challenges and besides to get entree to nan extremity users.”

He said nan hackathon format peculiarly lends itself to that: “It would normally, for galore founders, return them months if not years to get successful touch pinch nan correct group astatine defense ministries, and a batch of them are present today. So hopefully it will accelerate things substantially.”

Another attending investor, Alex Flamant from HCVC, told me: “There was a request for group successful Europe to put successful due defense technologies. It seemed from nan investor standpoint, there’s restrictions astir definite investors investing. One of nan goals of this is to demystify what a batch of this is amongst young builders, and really to get group much aligned pinch nan large ngo that we’re each on.”

Machine learning master was location to attraction connected drone detection: “That’s successful our instrumentality imagination and entity discovery knowledge. Ukraine are fighting for nan full of Europe astatine nan infinitesimal and evidently nan UK is pivotal to that. It’s basal that we that we state pinch them and utilize what we person to help.”

The hackthon came astatine a clip of accrued hostility astir nan usage of technologies successful defense. 

Google precocious fired 28 labor aft their sit-in protest complete nan arguable Project Nimbus statement pinch Israel, for instance.

However, defense is intelligibly rising up nan tech agenda.

Anduril precocious moved up successful a Pentagon programme to create unmanned combatant jets, and much broadly arsenic we learned past year, task superior is opening nan gates for defense tech. 

And successful nan UK, location is much talk astir really high-powered lasers could beryllium among nan adjacent activity of weapons. The DragonFire limb is said to beryllium precise capable to deed a £1 coin from a kilometre away, according to nan MoD, and costs hardly $15 to fire. 

The projects to look from nan hackathon whitethorn not person been not rather truthful sci-fi, but they were beautiful damn close. How astir a “High Speed Interceptor to return down Orlan Drones”? And astatine slightest they are apt to beryllium deployed a batch sooner than a laser gun.