2017 International Aerial Robotics Competition

The 26th Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International Aerial Robotics Competition American venue is over—for another year. Shortly, the Asia/Pacific Venue will have completed their competition and we’ll know where we stand for 2018 and the second half of Mission 7.

While every team that enters is a winner, no one came close to completing the mission this year at the American venue. The mission is very difficult and requires the teams to stretch the current state of technologies to the limit and beyond.

The official rules are posted on the internet. Included in the official rules is a brief summary of what was demonstrated through the first 6 missions of the competition. Mission 7 (both 7a and 7b) is an attempt to push into new areas of robotic behavior. Mission 7 is conducted inside a building without the benefit of GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) navigation. There are no vertical features in the 20m by 20m arena. There is simply a white grid bounded by a green line on one end and a red line on the other. The first part of the mission is to build an aircraft that will navigate over the arena and herd as many of the 10 free running target ground robots over the green line while avoiding the 4 free running obstacle robots that are carrying vertical PVC pipes. On the competition website there is a 4 minute video that explains what the competition teams are up against.

Did I happen to mention that the mission is to be accomplished autonomously? These systems are not remote controlled. They must perform the mission without human intervention.

This year the judges read 16 papers from the teams that were likely to perform at the American Venue. Out of the 16, 12 teams declared themselves ready to attempt the mission. Three teams had system failures that didn’t allow them to compete at all. Several began preparations but were unable to turn their vehicles over to computer control. At the end of the day there were four teams that flew autonomously: Kennesaw State, University of Louisville, University of Texas at Austin, and University of Pennsylvania.

Since the contest is about completing the mission, the rules and scoring are such that only those teams that accomplish autonomous flight receive a numerical score. However, the judges over the years have come up with additional awards that a team may earn for their efforts. The awards are based on subjective measures that are scored during static judging.

This year the award for the best presentation went to Ecole Poly of Montreal.

The best paper award went to North Dakota State.

The best integrated system went to University of Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh).

The most innovative vehicle design went to Norwegian University.

Missouri University won the award for the best T-shirt design.

There is one more award that the judges give out but there is no plaque or physical trophy involved. It is the highest static score award. This year it went to Ecole Poly of Montreal. This award entitles the team an additional attempt at performing the mission during the contest. While all teams get three attempts and one “pass,” the winner of the highest static score get 4 attempts along with their ability to pass.

In order to win the International Aerial Robotics Competition a team must objectively demonstrate completion of the mission. It isn’t easy. In fact, some may consider the task virtually impossible. However, seemingly impossible missions have been accomplished in the past as technologies improve.

During the discussions with the teams after this year’s competition, there was a lot of frustration. Some teams felt that their subsystems were “award winning.” However, not one of the free running ground robots was herded across the goal line. In the eyes of the judges awarding prizes to those subsystems would be like giving a prize to a losing formula one racer for best brakes or best windshield wiper.

Now we’re awaiting the results of the Asia/Pacific venue. If there is no completion of the first part of mission 7, we’ll be back next year to try it again. Good luck to everyone and thank you to all that have participated so far.

About AZAtheist

Retired--Researcher, Developer, Program Manager, Arizona Regional Director--American Atheists, Organizer--Tucson Atheists, Organizer--Skeptics of Tucson
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