Posted on April 3, 2017 by staff

DSTL launches £40k competition to improve UK defence


The brightest minds in data science are being brought together to solve real-world problems, in the first public competition of its kind.

Set up by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), the Data Science Challenge aims to improve the UK’s defence, security and prosperity.

The first challenges – detecting and classifying vehicles from aerial imagery, and the classification of documents by themes – are now open to entrants, with each challenge boasting a total prize fund of £40,000.

Minister for defence procurement Harriett Baldwin said: “Our Innovation Initiative is about harnessing diverse and talented individuals from business, academia, and beyond to keep the UK ahead of our adversaries.

“In this latest challenge, supported by our £800 million Innovation Fund, we are calling on experts to develop the latest technology to crunch big data and identify the solutions that will keep us safe.”

James Srinivasan a Principal Data Scientist at Dstl added: “Around the world, governments are using the power of data to meet many of the huge challenges that they are facing.

“By analysing complex, evolving information, data science can provide invaluable insight that informs how we can best respond to event.

“There is real talent out there and we want to encourage the curious to experiment and learn.

“We are determined to push the boundaries of what can be done, and to keep striving to always be better.

“This is why we are launching the Data Science Challenge today.”

The Data Science Challenge includes two distinct problems that will test the participants’ ability to mine large unstructured datasets to extract useful information:


Being able to automatically detect and categorise vehicles in aerial imagery will dramatically improve how quickly we can assess and identify them.

This challenge asks participants to detect and classify vehicles such as buses, cars and motorbikes, from a set of aerial images.


Analysing data in documents such as media reports can provide a better understanding of a potential crisis situation, growing instability in a particular region or specific theme such as terrorism.

Using news material, this challenge asks participants to predict topic tags for classifying unseen reports so that they can be used to improve awareness and understanding.

The Data Science Challenge is part of a wider programme set out in the Defence Innovation Initiative that aims to build an open innovation ‘ecosystem’, harnessing the talents of individuals, academia and industry to develop new approaches to complex problems.

It is sponsored by Dstl, the Government Office for Science, SIS and MI5.

Participants can register from today at and have between the 3rd April and 23.59 on 17th May 2017 to develop and submit their solutions.

Winners from each of the challenges will be announced at the end of May 2017.

The top three entrants will receive cash prizes. The first prize is £20,000, the second placed entrant will receive £12,000 whilst the third will get £8,000.