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  • DARPA's UAV Crowd-Sourcing Kicks Off
    Posted by Graham Warwick 1:50 PM on Oct 11, 2011

    More than 90 teams have registered to compete in DARPA's UAVforge "global crowd-sourcing competition" to design and fly a small VTOL perch-and-stare unmanned aircraft. Videos of the concepts are appearing on the website as the competition nears its first milestone.

    blog post photo
    Graphics: DARPA

    The goal of UAVforge, according to program manager Jim McCormick, is to find out whether innovation mobilized and organized by crowd-sourcing can produce a design that is cheaper to buy and easier to operate than the Shrike VTOL small UAV developed by AeroVironment under DARPA's Stealthy Persistent Perch and Stare program.

    Anyone, anywhere, can participate in the competition by forming a team, joining a team, offering their specific expertise to a team, or simply observing. More than 800 people have registered at the website, says McCormick. I signed up yesterday. I have no expertise to offer, but I will get to participate in the crowd-sourced voting that is a key feature of the competition.

    The first milestone in the competition comes at the end of this month, by which time contestants must have posted a video of their concept on the website. As of this morning (Oct 11), there were just under 40 videos up there, although there look to be a few ringers among them (what is IAI's Panther VTOL UAV doing there?).

    Once all the videos are posted, there will be two weeks of "peer voting" in which all participants will get a chance to give a rating from 0-5 to each design, so sign up and vote. McCormick says the vote will help contestants work out if they are on the right track and refine their designs before the next milestone. scheduled for December, when they have to post a video of their UAV's first flight.

    There will be another period of peer voting before the third milestone, in January, which will be a live flight video, with DARPA giving instructions over the phone telling the UAV operator to take off, stream video, land, etc.

    This will be followed by a downselection to the top 10 designs, which DARPA will invite to Camp Lejeune, N.C. in spring 2012 for a competitive fly-off.

    Out of a possible score of 200, 30 points will be awarded for performing the basic mission of taking off vertically, flying 2 miles into an urban environment then perching (or hovering) for 2 hours to provide "military relevant" surveillance before flying back to land vertically.

    An additional 140 points are available for demonstrating "advanced behaviors" such as the ability to avoid obstacles, fly safely during a loss of communications, and autonomously follow the ground operator. And finally up to 30 points will be awarded for manufacturability, which will be assessed by a company selected by DARPA.

    The winner will get a $100,000 prize, and the opportunity for their UAV to participate in a military exercise. The chosen manufacturer will build up to 15 of the winning UAVs for DARPA, but the intellectual property will remain with the winning team and they will be free to pursue their own manufacturing plans after the competition, says McCormick.

    It will be interesting to see whether DARPA, in its drive to revitalize US manufacturing, can overcome what would seem to be huge challenges to "democratizing" innovation -- opening a closely-held, company-proprietary process to broader participation -- in a very security-conscious and regulation-bound defense industry.

    Tags: ar99, unmanned, DARPA

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