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California ‘dreamers’ win world’s biggest flying robot rescue mission

No-one ever said winning was going to be easy!

For a group of Californian high school students today crowned champions of the world’s biggest airborne robotics challenge in the heart of rural Queensland – more than 7,000 miles from home – it meant the ultimate sacrifice.

“We had to give up our summer vacation for this, but it was so worth it,” says Andrew Pulido, flanked by team mates Paula Sanchez and Mina Lee, on the winning team, aptly entitled Sky High.

In cause for double celebration, the team from William J. ‘Pete’ Knight High School in Palmdale, California, stepped on to the podium with all-girl sister team, Blue Birds, placed second in a line-up of 12 competing high schools from across Australia, the United States and South Korea.

Now in its 12th year, the high school Airborne Delivery Challenge forms one part of the UAV Challenge in Dalby, 200km west of Brisbane, organised by QUT with the support of the Australian Centre for Robotic Vision and co-organiser CSIRO’s Data61.

[Click here to see the UAV Challenge for yourself]

Each year teams are tasked with rescuing one fair dinkum dummy, Outback Joe; a mannequin disguised as a farmer requiring urgent medical assistance. In the high school competition involving precision delivery of an EpiPen by UAV to a desperate Outback Joe, suffering an allergic reaction.

Bridget Howitt, a teacher from Knight High School’s Engineering Academy, said both teams (Sky High and Blue Birds) were ‘absolute rookies’, adding their secret to success was simple: positive energy and having fun.

“They started working on the UAVs for the competition back in April, and worked right through summer vacation in America and never stopped smiling,” said Bridget. “I get quite choked up!”

Sky High’s Mina Lee said both teams were inspired by ‘lots of singing and dancing’.

“We also had a few big crashes, which is all part of it,” Mina said.

The UAV Challenge, which runs until Friday, also features the Mission Impossible-esque biennial Medical Express, an open competition requiring UAVs to not only autonomously land in difficult, unseen conditions having flown up to 30km from take-off, but return swiftly and safely with precious cargo – namely, a blood sample from the stranded Outback Joe.

In the Medical Express challenge, Outback Joe’s perilous life-or-death situation is further amplified by the addition of simulated flash flooding. In the air, meanwhile, UAVs also have to contend with potential air strike from magpies during swooping season.

“There will be a few white-knuckle moments, as the teams work to reach poor Joe,” said Australian Centre for Robotic Vision Chief Investigator Jonathan Roberts; one of the brains behind the UAV Challenge.

“But it will also be a lot of fun and very rewarding. Importantly, the challenge is all about developing technology to help save lives in the real world.

“Over the years, the UAV Challenge has inspired advances in drone design as well as software and communications systems, not least being enhancements to the functionality and codebase of open source autopilot software, ArduPilot, which is now embraced by major players such as Microsoft and Boeing.”

A record line-up of 12 qualifying teams, hailing from Australia, Poland, Thailand, the Netherlands, Canada, India and China, have made the cut to contest the open Medical Express challenge.

To win the maximum prize of $75,000, their UAV needs to successfully complete the mission without pilot intervention.

Did you know?
Outback Joe is not alone when it comes to run-ins with disaster. Born and raised in Dalby, Doug Browne, whose farm the UAV Challenge takes place on, could arguably give Outback Joe a run for his money. Indeed, the 72-year-old, was sucked under flood waters and snared on a barbed wire fence during the 2010-11 Queensland Floods, needing to be airlifted out by a neighbour with a helicopter. As Doug says: “I was pretty lucky to survive that one. My legs were pretty cut up. Another time, I was knocked out cold when working on a stationary road train. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time when the tarp fell off and a piece of metal hit me on the head!” Not surprisingly, Doug is the first to applaud the life-saving search and rescue mission behind the UAV Challenge. “At the moment, it’s Outback Joe who needs rescuing, but you never know, it might one day be me…” Click to download images.

The 2018 UAV Challenge is sponsored by: Queensland Government; Insitu Pacific and Boeing Research & Technology – Australia; Northrop Grumman; Lockheed Martin Australia; Defence Science and Technology Group (part of the Australian Government Department of Defence); and MathWorks. Members of the public are welcome to join the UAV Challenge as spectators.

Images can be downloaded from the following links:

Day 1 & 2 (24-25 September)

Day 3 (Wednesday 26 September)

*Photos to come of the Medical Express challenge which runs until Friday

General photos of the UAV Challenge

For more information, including competition schedule click here.

Shelley Thomas
Communications Specialist, Australian Centre for Robotic Vision
+61 7 3138 4265 | M: +61 416 377 444 | E: shelley.thomas@qut.edu.au

PostedSeptember 26, 2018

Australian Centre for Robotic Vision
2 George Street Brisbane, 4001
+61 7 3138 7549