It sounds like something straight out of Q’s laboratory in a 1960s James Bond film.
When boffins from Oxford start-up Adaptix first met with officials from the Ministry of Defence two years ago, it didn’t take long for them to spot the potential of a cutting edge British technology.
Adaptix, based on the Begbroke Science Park in Oxord, specialises in producing 3D imaging equipment for healthcare, which allows doctors to peer inside people’s bodies.
But Mark Evans, Adaptix chief executive, recalls how the officials from the Defence and Security Accelerator, part of the Ministry of Defence, started discussing how the same technology could potentially be used to scan electronic gadgets for bugs and to detect if they may have been tampered with.
“We said OK, let’s just throw ideas at you of things that you might be interested in,” he says.
Two years later and Adaptix has secured a £200,000 grant to repurpose its technology for security uses, potentially helping the Government to check that computers installed in secure facilities around the world haven’t been fitted with espionage devices.
Adaptix is hardly alone.
As Britain prepares for a big boost in defence spending – and start-ups seek new commercial opportunities for emerging technologies, a growing number of fledgling British businesses are having similar meetings with the Government about expanding into defence contracting.
Many of these start-ups may never have imagined they would be offering their services to the military, but it’s quickly becoming a lucrative avenue for sales.
Another British company which has attracted military attention is SatelliteVu, which is developing a network of orbiting satellites capable of high frequency thermal imaging.
Obvious uses for the technology include monitoring climate change and economic activity, but the start-up has also attracted interest from the defence sector.
“Everyone is looking at the outside of buildings,” says chief executive Anthony Baker. “We can give an inference of what’s going on inside. And if there’s a process being camouflaged, we can see it. In defence there are some great applications.”
The buzz of activity in UK defence technology is also being fuelled by something else.
Eager to save money and find smarter and more efficient ways of doing things, the UK military is eager to build links with the UK’s growing technology sector. A series of investment funds and start-up “accelerator” schemes have been set up to funnel military cash into emerging technology businesses.
Gaining a lucrative defence contract can change a start-up’s fortunes, giving it a steady stream of money that often makes up the bulk of revenues.