Friday, July 6, 2012

UAV crowd-sourcing project fails to take off

It must have seemed like a rather good idea to the folks at DARPA to hold a competition to discover who might be capable of designing, building and manufacturing an advanced small unmanned air vehicle (UAV) that would be capable of performing a simulated military perch-and-stare reconnaissance mission.

Indeed, as the so-called UAVForge project took shape, they must have been delighted and encouraged to see more than 140 teams and 3,500 individuals from 153 countries crawl out of the woodwork to attempt to develop systems that would meet the rigorous demands laid down by the agency. But that was hardly surprising, since a whopping $100,000 prize was up for grabs for the team that could demonstrate that their system met the agency's goals.

With so many teams competing and so much cash at stake, it seemed inevitable that one of the teams would win the competition. Sadly, however, none of the nine finalist teams managed to do so. When they demonstrated their air vehicles at an event at Fort Stewart, Georgia, not one of the teams proved that they had what it took to fly home with the big bucks.

The fly-off scenario, conducted on a training site at Fort Stewart was a simulated military perch-and-stare reconnaissance mission that required that the teams' UAVs performed a vertical take-off, navigated to an area beyond the line of sight from the take-off location, land on a structure, capture video and then return to the starting point.

While some teams were able to reach the observation area, none were able to land on the structure and complete the mission. Since no team completed the fly-off event, the $100,000 prize was not awarded, and a design will not be manufactured for further testing in a military exercise as originally envisaged by the folks at DARPA.

If the failure of the so-called UAVForge project has proved one thing, it is that developing such a small unmanned air vehicle (UAV) is clearly beyond the role of so-called citizen scientists.

Might I dare to suggest, then, that if such persistent, beyond-line-of-sight, perch and stare surveillance systems are still of importance to DARPA, they may be better off calling upon one of the usual large military contractors to help them out.

That, however, is certain to cost a lot more than $100,000 in prize money, I'll wager.

Interested in reading more about UAVs? Then why not check out these recent news stories from Vision Systems Design?

1. UAV captures 3-D images of buildings
 Engineers at the University of Granada (Granada, Spain) are using UAVs to help them produce 3-D models of historical buildings.

2. UAVs help utilities bring back the power
Researchers at New Mexico State University (NMSU; Las Cruces, NM, USA) and the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI; Palo Alto, CA, USA) recently completed tests that concluded that unmanned aircraft can be safely and effectively used to assess power grid damage following a storm or natural disaster.

3. Small UAV uses hyperspectral imager

Headwall Photonics' (Fitchburg, MA, USA) Micro-Hyperspec imaging sensor is being successfully deployed onboard small commercial unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to help agriculturalists monitor vegetation over wide areas.

4. Robot vision helps guide UAV for crop spraying

Australian researchers are developing a flying robot as small as a dinner plate and a fleet of eco-friendly robotic farmhands that could help cut down the amount of herbicide sprayed on crops.

5. Cameras take flight on UAVs to help soldiers spot suspicious activity
An unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) developed by a team of engineers from Middlesex University (London, UK) could help soldiers to spot hidden dangers during military operations.

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