Sensors Directorate co-sponsors autonomous aerial vehicle competition

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AFB, Ohio -- The Air Force Research Laboratory Sensors Directorate -- in conjunction with the Dayton Development Coalition - hosted the second annual autonomous aerial vehicle competition April 28-29 as part of the Health and Human Performance Summit held in the Dayton Convention Center.

College teams from East Carolina University, North Carolina, the University of Toledo, Ohio, and the University of Michigan-Dearborn took part in a competition that focuses on autonomous navigation and target geo-location in a GPS-denied environment using a small unmanned aircraft system.

Each team earned points for its prepared reports, design review presentations, successful object imaging, and accuracy of object geo-location. The main event required each team to autonomously guide its modified, multi-rotor aircraft through a partially randomized field (conference room) to a target zone (smaller conference room) that contained cardboard obstacles. Within the target zone was an 'object' - for this competition, a green dodge ball.

Once the dodge ball was found, teams then had to estimate the horizontal and vertical position of the center of the dodge ball with respect to a coordinate system and send an image of the dodge ball to their laptop. Aerial vehicles were autonomously guided by a combination of onboard and offboard algorithms.

For the second consecutive year, the University of Toledo took first place in the competition, which featured $18,000 in prize money.

Dr. Eric Vinande, an electronics engineer with the Sensors Directorate, along with Mark Smearcheck, a research engineer at the Air Force Institute of Technology, were co-chairs for the competition. Vinande stated that he hoped the event helps students understand the difficulty in designing autonomous systems.

"There has been much coverage in the media regarding driverless vehicles and package-delivering drones," Vinande said. "The challenges and application become more real when you are part of a team that is responsible for the safe, reliable operation of such missions.

"It is important to have such competitions to inspire our future workforce to tackle the challenges of autonomous aerial systems," Vinande continued. "The United States needs to maintain its technological advantage in aerial systems and events like this one advance that goal."