NSTIX Challenge: Chemical / Biological Breadcrumb Trail

The National Security Technology and Innovation Exchange (NSTIx) is a government-led partnership that enables delivery of innovative national security outcomes. The purpose of this  Challenge is to investigate existing, emerging, or new capabilities in the area of tracking suspects using benign chemical and/or biological markers.

Opportunity Details


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Solution Providers are invited to submit Fixed Price or Time and Materials (T&M) proposals for the 12 week engagement.


UK Government

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The NSTIx OpTech Co-creation Space has engaged with a network of Community Partners which includes Innovate UK KTN, to connect organisations from across the UK Science & Technology ecosystem, fostering open and collaborative development of high-impact, user-driven technology solutions critical to national security, at a pace and scale that could not otherwise be achieved.

Challenge Summary

UK Law Enforcement are sometimes required to track the movement of suspected criminals during the course of an investigation where this is proportionate, necessary, and legally permissible. This may currently be undertaken using a range of capabilities, for example, investigating a suspect’s digital footprint, or investigating vehicular movement using Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR).

The purpose of this Challenge is to investigate existing, emerging, or new capabilities in the area of tracking suspects using benign chemical and/or biological markers. An example use-case may be to track the handling of illegal weapons by organised crime groups, by physically identifying who had touched the contraband, along with what other surfaces they may have touched (e.g. tracking the physical movement of a suspect and the associated contraband, leading investigators to identify the location of a much larger arms cache).

There may be similar parallel-worlds that may have relevance/transferability (think about touchpoint’s related to COVID), if someone touches their face, what surfaces within an office (for example) do they then touch? Is there a way to track this? Another example may be avian flu – is it possible to track where somebody has walked after they have stepped through the disinfectant mat at the entry to a farm or zoo, in order to track the risk to birds at that location?

We are interested in exploring the ability to track the physical movements of criminal suspects through the means of tracking unique biological markers (for example, bacterial flora), or by using benign chemical markers that are imperceptible to the human eye.

There are three key themes to consider:

1. The development or identification of suitable chemical / biological markers that are imperceptible to a human without specialist equipment. An example approach would be to use a paint that is invisible to the human eye and imperceptible to touch (invisible ink may be an analogy) and is benign with no health and safety concerns. This could be painted onto someone’s hand or footwear; they then go about their daily life without the invisible paint OFFICIAL OFFICIAL impacting on their day. The paint on that person will then be deposited onto anything that they have touched.

2. Consider how the chemical / biological marker is tracked and identified after it has been deposited.

3. As a suspect will be unaware that they are exposed to a chemical / biological marker it is paramount that the tracking media must pose no health and safety concerns to that individual.

There are a number of considerations when assessing this capability challenge:

Technology Readiness Level (TRL): A cross-section of TRLs will be considered for this Challenge, ranging from early academic work (TRL 1-3) those in development (e.g. TRL 4-6), or to readily deployable commercial-off-the-shelf products (TRL 9).

Near real-time use: Solutions should aim to provide the capability for near real-time tracking (e.g. where investigators could identify touch-points shortly after a suspect has touched an object).

Standards: Criminal activity identified through this type of solution must be able to stand-up to scrutiny regarding the confidence and reliability of a subject’s movements as part of an investigative case.

Legality and Ethics: Where appropriate, the project will engage specialist views on the legality and ethical considerations associated with the potential use of any identified solutions.

Challenge Structure

This Challenge will be structured using three workstreams, run in parallel, over a period of up to 12 weeks:

Workstream 1: User-centric Journey mapping and associated pain points:

We would like a Solution Provider to work with our operational users to help map out the user journey(s) for which biological and/or chemical tracking could be applied within our scenario. This should identify associated pain-points (e.g. where there are tensions for which solutions do not exist).

Workstream 2: Horizon Scanning and identification of new or existing solutions:

We would like the same Solution Provider to work with our teams to identify potential solutions to address the pain-points identified during the user-journey mapping. This could be through a combination of engaging with industry, academia and government to identify a range of existing, new or emerging solutions across the TRL scale. Nb: work may already have been undertaken within government, industry and academia to investigate solutions to these pain-points, so this workstream could, for example, also include a series of workshops with a range of stakeholders to help draw this out for inclusion within the Horizon Scan. This could, for example, be in addition to literature reviews and market surveys.

Workstream 3: This Workstream will complement the other two by producing a report comprising a technical deep dive into existing academic and industrial research & development. We envisage this will provide insights into the art of the possible and ultimately provide recommendations highlighting key areas of work needed to produce future proof of concept(s).

UK Solution Provider Proposals – ‘our ask’

We are seeking a single Solution Provider to lead Workstreams 1 and 2, delivering an MVP by the end of 12 weeks. We are seeking a separate Solution Provider to lead Workstream 3, again delivering an MVP by the end of 12 weeks. We are open to interest from all aspects of the supply chain with particular interest from SME, RTO and Academic Solution Providers.

We are happy to be guided by Solution Providers proposals regarding the number and duration of these sprints within the maximum 12 week period.

How to apply

Confidentiality: All proposals will be subject to commercial confidentiality and official sensitive clearance. Please do not submit any materials above this classification.

Clarification Questions: Clarification questions can be submitted to cocreation@hmgcc.gov.uk, or via IUK KTN Hazel.biggs@ktn-uk.org, no later than Friday 22 July 2022.

A document detailing the answers to the Clarification Questions we received can be accessed here. 

Questions and Responses: All inquiries will be collated, and responses sent to all interested parties by close of business on Friday 29th July 2022 – please ensure the coordinating Community Partner is included in the circulation.

Deadline: The deadline for proposals to be submitted is close of business on August 5th 2022. Please include the title of the Challenge ‘NSTIx Chemical Biological Breadcrumb Trail’ in your email.

Format: Final responses for this challenge are to be provided in MS Office (Word, PowerPoint, Excel) or PDF format to the following email address: cocreation@hmgcc.gov.uk with cc to Innovate UK KTN Hazel.biggs@ktn-uk.org who introduced the Challenge.

Alternative Formats: If you wish to discuss other forms of response such as a video presentation or live demonstration please contact us via the Clarification process to discuss your approach.

The NSTIx Op-Tech Co-creation Centre will select and directly engage Solution Providers for this Challenge on the technical and commercial merit of the proposal received.

Pricing: Solution Providers are invited to submit Fixed Price or Time and Materials (T&M) proposals for the 12 week engagement. If submitting T&M, please indicate the approximate run-rate across the sprint-profile.


Hazel Biggs

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Hazel Biggs

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