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The challenge

Operating in dangerous or high-risk situations

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) were frequently employed in the military in the early 2000s, operating in situations where manned flight was considered high-risk or challenging. Their capabilities could also be suited to other applications, such as lifesaving search and rescue operations that have limited resources, and are needed to analyse vast stretches of terrain.

While the unmanned aircraft industry has grown rapidly, and delivers significant economic activity, the industry is still very young and the potential benefits that unmanned aircraft could bring are far greater than what has so far been realised.

Our response

UAV Challenge

The Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Challenge is an event organised in collaboration with CSIRO and the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) that promotes civilian applications of unmanned aircraft, and motivates members of the public to participate in the development and improvement of unmanned aircraft and associated technologies. Conceived in 2005 and first held in 2007, the event has consisted of competitions for adults and high school students, and attracts competitors from around the world.

The Search and Rescue Challenge, Medical Express Challenge and Airborne Delivery Challenge are the three main competition categories of the UAV Challenge.

In 2016, the objective of the UAV Search and Rescue Challenge, was to find a lost 'bushwalker,' aka a mannequin called Outback Joe, using unmanned aircraft, and drop a 500ml lifesaving bottle of water to him, and return the aircraft to the airport with a prize value of $50,000. In 2014 the prize was claimed by Canberra UAV.

Each UAV needed to operate under autopilot control and search an area of roughly two square kilometres that were six to eight kilometres from the airport, and thus, well beyond the line of sight of the UAV operators.

To complete the challenge, teams needed to drop their water bottle within 100m of Joe, and return to the airport within one hour of their start time.

The results

Innovation and commercialisation opportunities

The UAV Challenge provides an exciting and safe forum for the unmanned aircraft industry, to expand the limits of operations currently imposed by technical limitations and regulations.

Multiple unmanned aerial vehicle innovations and commercialisation opportunities have occurred in response to the UAV Challenge.

RFDesign is a Brisbane-based company manufacturing radio modems. Their initial, and most successful product, the RFD900+ ISM band radio modem designed for long-range serial communications, applications, was developed to compete in the UAV Challenge, as no product on the market at the time met the Challenge's requirements. They have gone on to develop hundreds of thousands of their products to customers all over the world.

Millswood Engineering is a South Australia-based electronics manufacturing company. In response to the 2009 UAV Competition, they developed a failsafe flight safety device. The device monitors a diverse range of on-board systems and provides a simple go or no-go visual indication of the health of the various systems. Now in it's fourth product iteration, the failsafe device is used to make unmanned aircraft simpler and safer.

Millswood Engineering flight failsafe device

Ardupilot is an open source autopilot that is employed in more than one million multi-copters, fixed-wing planes, and helicopters worldwide, and has the go-to autopilot program for the likes of Microsoft and Boeing's drone initiatives. Many features of the auto-pilot, especially safety features, were developed to meet the requirements of the UAV Challenge.

In early 2020, the UAV Challenge was announced the winner of the Australian Association for Unmanned Vehicles (AAUS) Industry Champion Leadership Award.

The Leadership Award recognises individuals or organisations that lead the way with advocacy work that strives to improve the commercial and/or technical viability of the unmanned systems industry.

At Data61 we are developing dependable, autonomous UAV systems suitable for real-world tasks. We are developing technologies that will allow the safe, reliable and cost-effective operation of unmanned aircraft for scientific and civilian operations. Unmanned aircraft (UAV, UAS, RPA, drone) are a rapidly growing sector of the aerospace industry.

Our main projects are Smart Skies, Phenocopter, ResQu. We operate the CSIRO SMR-1 and SMR-2 research helicopters which have been upgraded recently and have recently developed the Hovermap, a fully integrated aerial 3D mapping solution.

See below SMR-1 helicopter.

UAV in flight

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