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Video: New DARPA challenge wants you to build a UAV

Video: New DARPA challenge wants you to build a UAV

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If you build things that fly or dream of designing a piece of uber-cool machinery, this is your moment. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agenc...

If you build things that fly or dream of designing a piece of uber-cool machinery, this is your moment. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center, Atlantic has launched the ultimate air challenge.

They are calling on innovators of all kinds (yes, amateur citizen inventors are welcome) to collaborate with other individuals or form teams to win $100,000 and the opportunity to have the design deployed in an overseas military exercise. The winner of the UAVForge challenge will have a government-selected manufacturer execute their design and replicate 15 systems for warfighter experiments.

This is what they’re looking for: A user-friendly—and small enough to fit into a backpack—UAV that silently flies in and out of dangerous environments to conduct sustained surveillance for up to three hours. Due to security in such situations, the UAV must operate beyond line of sight.

UAVForge has three competitive phases, starting from this October when the concept video is due and ending April 2012 with a “Fly-Off,” a scenario complete with a high-stress competitive course that simulates an actual mission.

The military is pushing this challenge to be crowdsourced. They’ve built a clear system (despite the fact that their site is built in Flash, which can be so frustrating) for sharing ideas, finding teammates and receiving feedback from the UAVForge community. In fact peer ratings are included in choosing the top ten teams that make it to the Fly-Off.

Some teams have submitted video of their concepts. Below are two of my favorites (but you can see more under the "solutions" tab on the site.)

This is the University of Pennsylvania's quadrocopter, built to maneuver through tiny windows. It can also land on perches with velcro. Problem is, I don't think there will be velcro on strategic surveillance positions within enemy territory.

Here is an animated video of a tri-rotor UAV. I think I might like it mostly because they enhance the video with music by Massive Attack.

Finally, just for fun, here is a video of an RC plane complete with on-board camera and special glasses that allow the operator to control the vehicle. (If there were an auto-pilot version maybe this could become a proper UAV.) The plane is flying up and down New York's East River and the views of New York City are literally breathtaking. Of course I wondered how this group got permission to fly all over New York's harbor, but if you watch through to the end you'll get a real treat. The cop that presumably asked them what they were up to, gets distracted by trying out the gizmo himself. They've got him amazed and gleefully laughing. While on duty. Hm.

[via Armed With Science]

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Christie Nicholson

Contributing Writer

Christie Nicholson produces and hosts Scientific American's podcasts 60-Second Mind and 60-Second Science and is an on-air contributor for Slate, Babelgum, Scientific American, Discovery Channel and Science Channel. She has spoken at MIT/Stanford VLAB, SXSW Interactive, the National Science Foundation, the National Research Council, the Space Studies Board and Brookhaven National Laboratory. She holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and Dalhousie University in Canada. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure