Aimed at enhancing innovation within the defence sector, the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD), through the Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA), has granted a Defence Innovation Loan to VRAI, a Newcastle-based small and medium enterprise (SME), to further the development and commercialisation of VRAI’s advanced data capture and analysis technology, aimed at enhancing the training of Royal Air Force (RAF) aviators.

VRAI aims to provide more personalised training experiences and objective feedback to trainees, potentially reducing the time and cost associated with training future military pilots, an urgent requirement following reports of a lengthy backlog in the RAF fast-jet training programme.

The Defence Innovation Loan, valued at £544,742 ($681,000)will enable VRAI to apply machine learning algorithms to enhance the actionable insights derived from training data. This step is intended to improve training outcomes and assist instructors in focusing on more value-added tasks. The funding will support the development of customised dashboard metrics tailored to airmanship, the non-technical skills essential for aerial navigation and safety, according to a release from the MoD.

VRAI’s technology, which was initially supported by DASA funding, combines virtual reality (VR) with sophisticated data analysis to measure and predict the performance of trainee pilots. This approach seeks to address the challenges associated with traditional pilot training methods, which are often constrained by the availability of instructors. 

The funding initiative is part of a broader effort by DASA and Innovate UK to support the growth of SMEs in the defence sector. The Defence Innovation Loans are specifically designed to help businesses at a more mature stage of technology development, aiming to bridge the gap between innovation and commercialisation.

VRAI has collected nearly one billion data points from 40 RAF pilots over a three-month period, and the company has secured a contract to develop a data-driven tactical simulator for the British Army in collaboration with BAE Systems, on a project funded through the Ministry of Defence’s Defence Technology Exploitation Programme (DTEP).

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With interest rates below the market average, the British government is subsidising innovation as part of a scheme to develop a profitable industrial base without a full grant scheme. Loans range from £100,000 to £2m, covering up to 100% of project costs at a below-market interest rate, provided the innovation has reached at least Technology Readiness Level 6.