DARPA's UAVforge Closes in on Final 10
1:53 PM on Feb 06, 2012
DARPA's UAVforge competition to crowd-source the design of a small perch-and-stare unmanned aircraft has completed its second round, with participants voting on "proof-of-flight" videos submitted by the competing teams.
Round 3 will see the selection of 10 teams to participate in a fly-off competition, so the rankings at the end of round 2 are pretty important. And the highest-ranked design, by DARPA's count, is my personal favourite from the outset, the National University of Singapore's ball-shaped, ground-mobile, coaxial-rotor GremLion.
Video: National University of Singapore
In a field dominated by quad- and hexrotor designs, the GremLion stands out as original - but a big part of the DARPA competition is manufacturability. And I wonder if some of the simpler designs will score more highly in the next round, for which teams have to submit a manufacturability self-assessment as well as perform a live video demonstration.
Here are the Top 10 designs after Milestone 2. You can see their proof-of-flight videos on uavforge.net:
1 - GremLion (Singapore - coaxial-rotor)
2 - Dhaksha (India - hexrotor)
3 - AeroQuad (quadrotor)
4 - ATMOS (the Netherlands, Quadshot quadrotor flying wing)
5 - WIDrone (quadrotor)
6 - X-MAUS (quadrotor folding wing)
7 - evaForge (Quadshot quadrotor flying wing)
8 - HALO (UK, hexrotor)
9 - Extractor X (quad tiltrotor)
10 - SwiftSight (quadrotor)
After the GremLion, I quite like the X-MAUS (video here), which takes off and lands vertically like a quadrotor with its wing folded into a box shape, then unfolds to fly like a fixed-wing UAV - but it looks a bit complex and not very robust.
While the open votes in rounds 1 and 2 may have provided valuable "peer-review input" to the competing teams, as DARPA claims, it is not clear to me whether the crowd-sourcing sought by UAVforge is actually improving the designs. But in its latest update, DARPA provides a little insight into how it is trying to make this more than justa popularity contest.
DARPA says the final ranks in round 2 "represent a filtered score that objectively captures the underlying information content of observable voting patterns". Which I think means it's an effort to prevent contestants gaming the system. To prove its point, DARPA has posted the raw voting scores, which rank MIT India's Dhaksha UAV way out ahead of the GremLion in second plance and put the WIDrone in third.
The agency is not being more specific, because it does not want its approach exploited in the upcoming elimination round, but DARPA says it believes "the potential for voters to sincerely misunderstand video content far outweighs the residual effects of any other source of bias, intended or not." So, teams and voters alike, you have been warned.
The live video demonstrations will take place from Feb. 24 to Mar. 1, and videos must be posted within 2 hours of the demo. The top 10 teams will move forward to the fly-off competition at Fort Stewart, Georgia, in mid-May. DARPA, meanwhile, has selected Northwest UAV Propulsion Systems (NWUAV) to provide manufacturing advice to contestants and to produce 15 examples of the winning UAV design.