Wow, what a day. The second day of the Medical Express Challenge was a huge day for both competitors and the organisers. Seven teams flew or attempted to fly the mission to retrieve a blood sample from Outback Joe who was located at Springvale Farm just outside Dalby.
The first team to fly was Forward Robotics from Canada. Their two quad planes took to the air with no problems and headed down range. It was a great start to the day. But after a few minutes and about 10km of transit, one aircraft came down and one went into a loss of comms mode where it circled continuously trying to reestablish its data link. A quick trip in a car with the remote control and the safety pilot landed the aircraft safely.
Forward Robotics about to set up (left), and the crashed first aircraft (right).
The second team up was ISAAC UAV from Kasetsart University from Thailand. Their electric helicopter made a very smooth take off and started the transit flight. The flight went very smoothly and the helicopter arrived safe and sound above the farm. They began the search for Outback Joe using their vision system. But just as they were about to turn their camera towards Joe, their helicopter started blowing smoke and a flame was observed coming out of the main motor. It appears that the motor overheated and the helicopter came down at the farm.
ISAAC UAV (left) and their downed helicopter at Outback Joe’s farm (right).
Next up was West Coast UAV from Perth. They hand launched their first aircraft with no problems and that aircraft started its transit flight. But the launch of the second aircraft did not go so well and the aircraft was slightly damaged and crossed one of the elimination boundaries. They we out and so recovered their still flying aircraft.
West Coast UAV (left) and their two aircraft (right).
Another Perth team, Perth UAV followed on after the UNSW Canberra UAV Team elected to go to the back of the queue as they were having power supply issues with one of their onboard computers. Perth UAV had a number of technical set up issues but did successfully launch their small quad plane midway through the mission flight time. The aircraft began its transmit flight but crossed the geofence at the bottom of the range after appearing to make a very wide turn. They plane came down and their UAV Challenge was over.
Perth UAV about to launch.
The only team from The Netherlands, MAVLab TUDelft were ready to show off their amazing Delftacopter – revealed to the world just last week. This new type of aircraft takes off like a helicopter and then rotates to become a biplane. The take-off was perfect and the transition to a biplane was very smooth. The delftacopter then sped off down the transmit corridor, successfully hitting waypoint after waypoint. The aircraft made it to the farm and the hunt for Outback Joe was on. The wind had picked up at the farm at it appears that the copter was slowly blown into the top of a very tall tree, where it was caught. The delftacopter’s competition debut was over.
The Delftacopter about to take off (left) and that tree (right) – copter is in the red circle.
A university team from Monash UAS drove their incredible well constructed mission command trailer out onto the field and prepared their two aircraft. The launch of their support aircraft went well and it headed along the transit corridor. But there was a problem with the take-off of the retrieval aircraft and the team could not continue.
Monash brings one of their aircraft into land.
The final flight of the day was from Canberra UAV. Many had been eagerly anticipating this flight as the team won the 2014 UAV Challenge Search and Rescue and came first in 2012. There were high expectations and Canberra UAV delivered! Their strategy was to use a large quad plane as the retrieval aircraft and a helicopter as the support aircraft and communications relay. Both aircraft took off with no issues and both transmitted to the farm, a trip of just over 20km.
The quad plane entered its search pattern and began looking for Outback Joe. Within a few minutes, Outback Joe was found! The team reported his location which was 3m away from his true location. This was an amazing achievement. The team began to prepare for a landing. Meanwhile, the helicopter was flying above the farm to act as a communications relay. Quite unexpectedly the judges reported that the helicopter’s engine had fallen silent and the helicopter hence auto rotated to the ground – landing very hard, causing significant damage.
The Canberra UAV helicopter post auto rotation “landing”.
This incident meant that the team would not be able to fully complete the mission and hence they knew that they could not win the $50,000 prize should they score the most points and achieve all the other mission requirements. Many teams would have given up at this point, but Canberra UAV asked to continue and demonstrate how they could retrieve Outback Joe’s blood sample. Permission was granted and the landing commenced. The quad plane landed softly 42.6m from Joe after the team declared that their target landing range was 42m. The judges loaded the blood vial into the plane and pressed the go button. A minute later the aircraft ascended gracefully into the air and headed back to base. Twenty minutes later the aircraft made a vertical touchdown at the Base. The vial was retrieved and was found to be in tact. They had brought the payload home safely but did not complete the mission due to the helicopter auto rotation. But this was an epic achievement in the first running of the Medical Express competition.
Judge Jim Coyne removes the vial from the Canberra UAV quad plane after its successful return to the Base.
That was it for Day two. There are three more teams that may fly tomorrow, ArsNumerica-JetStream (Poland), UNSW Canberra UAV Team (Australia) and MelAvio (Poland). The teams and organisers will be back at the Base tomorrow morning to try and complete the flying. Will one of these three teams complete the mission and win the $50,000? We shall see. It’s not called a challenge for nothing.