London's first defense tech hackathon brings Ukraine war closer to the city's startups | TechCrunch

London's first defense tech hackathon brings Ukraine war closer to the city's startups | TechCrunch

Last week, the UK announced it. The greatest ever A military aid package for UkraineThat bill takes Britain's total aid for this financial year to £3bn – more than the $50bn the US recently pledged, but still plenty.

But while most of those funds will be spent on conventional military hardware, a new tech initiative launched late last week was aimed at boosting Ukraine's asymmetric warfare capabilities against Russia. in fact, London Defense Tech Hackathon The event was the first to bring together some of the UK's brightest minds in technology, venture capital, and national security in a military environment. The idea was to hack together ideas to help Ukraine and create a much more porous layer between the fast-paced civilian tech world and the very different world of the military.

Put Together by Alex Fitzgerald Squirrel And Richard Pass Forces of the futureboth were joined by co-organizers who included the Honorable Artillery Company, Apollo Defense, Lambda automata and D3 VC among others.

The event brought together developers specializing in both hardware and software to promote innovation in defense, national security and deep tech. A key focus was on drones and their applications on the battlefield, requiring both hardware and electronic systems to fly to their targets and counter-drone systems.

As most observers of the war have pointed out, this war has taken on a whole new dimension compared to previous wars. Today, drones and electronic countermeasures are the order of the day, as Ukraine seeks to fight Russia, a much larger aggressor, with asymmetric methods.

Fitzgerald told me: “There There are three groups of people who attend these events. There are architects, investors and the military. I think for everybody, it's trying to convince their peers to think more about defense technology and build or invest in it as an option.”

He explained that there are two main lines of work: electronic warfare and drones or aerial systems: “There's an acronym I've learned from someone smarter than me, which is that the future of defense technology is small, cheap and undeveloped. “

He explained that one of the main aims was to get people who were not traditionally involved in defense either building or investing in defence: “We have the NATO Innovation Fund, the UK National Security Strategic Investment Fund e.g. People are there. So yes, it's a mix of people who already invest in defense or who haven't thought about investing before.

He chose the hackathon format because “the focus is on doing the work. Get real architects, not just to talk about building, because that's actually where most of the innovation is happening.”

A movement for this event was recent. El Segundo, Calif., Defense Tech Hackathon In February this year.

“I think the key thing with military technology is making it as easy to use and as powerful as some of the consumer technology that's been built,” Fitzgerald said. There's more AI than Snapchat, often with some of the most advanced military systems.”

Katerina Buchatsky also attended the event. Apollo Defense. As engineers tinkered with cameras, Starlinks and drones, he told me: “Defense technology is a tough industry to break into. And it's a tough market to break into, for obvious reasons. Hackathons are a very interesting way to get involved because defense technology can seem like a big black box of contracts that take 10 years, and the technologies that are built are (often) hidden from the public eye. . In a hackathon, you have 24 hours to build something really cool.”

Interceptor done.

The firm has seen “a lot of success” with it, he said. El Segundo event.

“We just realized that if people feel like it's something that's accessible to them (and) can do something quickly and make an impact, then they want to participate,” he said. told me

Buchatsky, who is Ukrainian, also spoke highly of Ukraine: “These are very real things to me. When I say I need a drone detector, it's because I'm outside my window. Seeing one that we didn't catch in time and it's going to kill my neighbor. That's the reality we face.”

He added that it's important for hackathon participants to know that “they're building for someone and it could actually save my family's life.”

Despite the controversy surrounding defense technology in some quarters, he added, “To be involved in technology is to be interested in a better future. And I really, really can't think of a more exciting and better future.” Which is safe and where we can guarantee peace.

NATO, in the form of the NATO Investment Fund, also represented a one billion euro fund to invest in defense technology over the next few years.

Fund partner Patrick Schneider Sikorsky told me the fund was established to back startups “that strengthen our collective defense security and resilience. We invest in deep dual-use technology, but the fund's The concept was pre-war in Ukraine. The conflict has now heavily influenced our investment thesis and we are keen to invest in defense technologies that can make Europe safer and more secure.

But why was NATO funding the hackathon?

“I think defense technology is new to a lot of founders and a lot of developers,” Schneider Sikorsky said. “It's not that easy for them to understand the problem statements and challenges and get access to the end users.”

He said the hackathon format particularly lends itself to this: “Typically, for many founders, it takes them months, if not years, to connect with the right people at the Ministry of Defense, and many of them All are here today so hopefully that will speed things up considerably.

Another participating investor, Alex Flament from HCVCtold me: “People in Europe needed to invest in appropriate defense technology. It seems that, from an investor's point of view, there are restrictions around some of the investors investing. One of the goals is to It's about showing what a lot of this is among young builders and really connecting people more with the larger mission that we're all working on.”

A machine learning expert was on hand to focus on drone detection: “It's in our machine vision and object detection. Ukraine is fighting for the whole of Europe at the moment and obviously the UK is important for that. It is important that we unite with them and use what we have to help them.

The hackathon came at a time of growing tension around the use of technology in defense.

Google recently fired 28 employees after their sit-in. protest For example, on the controversial Project Nimbus deal with Israel.

However, defense is clearly driving the tech agenda.

Andoril recently has been transferred Ahead of a Pentagon program to develop unmanned fighter jets, and more broadly as we learned last year, venture capital Opening Gates of defense technology

And in the UK, there is Many things About how high-powered lasers could be part of the next wave of weapons. The Dragonfire weapon is said to be accurate enough to hit a £1 coin from a kilometer away, according to the MoD, and costs just $15 to fire.

gave Projects emerging from hackathons Maybe not quite as sci-fi, but they were pretty close. How about “high speed”? The interceptor Orlon to take down the drones? And at least they are likely to be deployed much more quickly than laser guns.

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