What a great day! Day 3 of the UAV Challenge week was a fantastic success. The first few hours were devoted to the high-school student teams competing in the Airborne Delivery Challenge. You can find a full summary of that competition here. The winning team was Sky High from William J. “Pete” Knight High School in Palmdale California.
The remainder of the day was dedicated to the first mission flights of Medical Express teams. The weather was ideal and we hoped that three teams would get to fly and complete their missions. By the end of the day we did indeed see Monash UAS, Canberra UAV and West Coast UAV all fly their missions.
First up in the Medical Express Challenge were Monash UAS. Their very large team were highly organised and started off extremely well. Their two aircraft took off autonomously and both headed down the range. The communications relay aircraft stayed close to Waypoint 1 for the rest of the mission while the retrieval aircraft flew to Outback Joe’s farm. Impressively, the aircraft automatically found the target that had been put out by Outback Joe and landed just 5.6m from it. Until that point, the team had run the mission totally hands-free. But a problem was spotted by the team that meant that the landed aircraft could not be reactivated by Outback Joe at the farm (as per the rules) and so the team intervened and commanded the aircraft to take-off and return to the Base. Both aircraft came into land fully autonomously and the blood sample was successfully transport from the farm to the Base. This was a great effort by the team but they did not complete the mission.
The second team to fly was Canberra UAV. They had come first in the last competition in 2016 and are one of the favourites to complete the mission this year. This year, the Challenge is tougher than it was in 2016 as the organisers have added an optional Extension Autonomy Challenge – sponsored by Defence Science and Technology Group. Canberra UAV elected to tackle this extra challenge which involves their aircraft having to re-plan its route live while it encounters up to 32 virtual dynamic flying obstacles such as other aircraft, bad weather or birds. These obstacles are known as Dynamic No Fly Zones and they are fed into the UAV’s ground station as a simulated radar feed.
The mission for Canberra UAV started with an issue relating to the tuning of the petrol engine of their retrieval aircraft. After some troubleshooting, the team managed to fix the issue and start their mission flight. But they had used some of their 60 minutes of mission time to fix their issue. The team was really up against the clock. The retrieval aircraft made fantastic progress to the farm while the communications relay aircraft remained on station close to the Base. On route to the farm, the team reported a technical issue onboard the retrieval aircraft that resulted in an inability to geo-reference the images of Outback Joe’s target. Canberra UAV’s Andrew (Tridge) worked to fix the issue but in the end manually geo-referenced the target location, and the aircraft landed over 20m from the target. This meant that the team could not complete the mission as a team must land its aircraft within 10m of the target to qualify for a completed mission. The judges at the farm loaded the blood sample int the aircraft and reactivated it, allowing it to autonomously take-off and return to the Base. Both Canberra UAV completed autonomous landings.
What did go right for Canberra UAV was their ability to successfully re-plan their flight and avoid the Dynamic No Fly Zones. Their aircraft navigated all things thrown at them in an incredible performance that impressed the judges. Even though Canberra UAV did not complete the mission, they did show that it is possible to autonomously navigate in extremely challenging environments.
The final team that got to fly today was West Coast UAV. The team had modified their system from the one they entered in 2016 competition by launching both aircraft autonomously from a catapult launcher. The team’s aircraft flew in formation down to Waypoint 1 and back to the Base before heading towards the farm. Up until that point of the mission, the operation was totally hands-off. Then disaster struck. The retrieval had some sort of technical failure and came down in the range. The team decided to let their imaging aircraft continue to the farm to hunt for the target. Unfortunately that aircraft did not find the target and was commanded to fly back to the Base. On the way the team realised that they could use their aircraft to search for their missing retrieval aircraft and so a search began around its last known location. In the end, that search did not find the aircraft and the imaging aircraft was commanded back to the Base where it performed an autonomous landing.
The flying order for tomorrow is as follows:
MelAvio Avionics Club
with the High Flyers electing to fly at the end. Note that as High Flyers have been given an opportunity to fly but have elected to move the the back of the queue, an additional day of flying (Saturday) will not be activated for them if they do not get an opportunity to fly by the end of Friday.
Tomorrow will be another very big day for the UAV Challenge and the organisers wish all the teams the best of luck.