“These systems were valued at under $10,000, which is an incredibly small price for a system that could perform this challenge. We found out Darpa had tested a commercial state-of-the-art UAS over the same course and it failed to complete the task,” says Prior. “The main lesson learned is that even though small UAVs and cameras are readily available off the shelf, it takes more than that to deliver something practical for use in the field,” says McCormick.
Team Halo, from the Autonomous Systems Laboratory that later moved to Southampton University, entered UAVForge after failing to compete in the U.K. Defense Ministry's 2008 Grand Challenge because of control problems. “The motivation was to prove our UAV was world class,” says Prior.
TeamAtmos got started as an aerospace-engineering graduation project to design a system capable of competing in UAVForge. There was no intent to build a UAV, but “when the assignment was finished, we decided that we would take this project to the next level and actually build the UAV we had designed theoretically,” says Knoops.
Some useful information was gleaned from debate on the online portal, and “there was a great deal of camaraderie during the flyoff, with an 'us against them' feel,” Prior says. “We all wanted someone to win the prize, and more importantly the follow-on manufacturing deal with NWUAV. I think they should have awarded the manufacturing contract and follow-on military exercise even if they chose not to award the prize money.”
Competing was valuable, says Prior. “If UAVForge hadn't existed, we might not have developed the system as far as we have,” he says. “It's a shame we couldn't get to work with NWUAV and Darpa; however, we are U.K.-based and it's maybe more of a shame that we had to go to the U.S. to compete in such an event.”
Tap on the icon in the digital edition of AW&ST for more details and images of Darpa challenges, or go to AviationWeek.com/innovation