Saving Outback Joe: UAVs weather the storm to find lost soul

Hello Joe! Seen here with his entourage, Joe was again in need of rescuing this year.

Hello Joe! Seen here with his entourage, Joe had to be rescued again this year. Image: Stefan Hrabar

By Jake Southall

Last week, 16 high school teams from around the world gathered in Calvert, Queensland to put their unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) skills to the test and save Outback Joe at the ninth annual UAV Challenge.

Yet again, our hapless mannequin Outback Joe found himself lost and in desperate need of assistance from the world’s top UAV teams. This year he really got himself into a jam.

Joe got himself lost, cut off by floodwaters and, to make matters worse, he made an “emergency call” to advise that he was suffering an allergic reaction and needed urgent medical assistance. Yet another unfortunate predicament for our inanimate friend.

To save Outback Joe each team was tasked with designing and developing their own UAV (a.k.a flying robot or drone) plus the software and hardware necessary to complete the mission.

The teams then needed to manoeuvre their UAV past two overhead hurdles and deliver an EpiPen payload (to assist with Joe’s allergic reaction, of course) safely, and as close to the stricken mannequin as possible. This could either be deployed remotely by the team’s mission manager (the team member responsible for delivering the EpiPen) or autonomously by systems on board the aircraft such as a camera, a GPS system, or even through the use of ultrasonic sensors. The EpiPen then needed to land safely and intact with a shock measurement under 75G.

On top of all this, there’s a twist! While the pilot flying the aircraft has a visual on Outback Joe, the mission manager was placed in a completely closed off room with no visual of Outback Joe, their teammates, or the aircraft during the flight.

This additional obstacle not only called for the use of quality technology but top-notch teamwork as well.

Storm image

A dark and brooding Queensland sky did not dampen the competitors’ desire to find Outback Joe.

It was a battle hard fought by all of the spirited teams, but in the end it was the local heroes of team Double Duo from the MUROC Flying Club at Mueller College, Queensland who prevailed through the storm and interference to take home the $5,000 grand prize and rescue Outback Joe in the 2015 Airborne Delivery Challenge.

The Double Duo team were one of the only teams to successfully drop and land three packages with a shock reading under 75G. Meeting the shock measurement of 75G and keeping the EpiPen intact proved to be one of the greatest challenges for all the teams.

The contest was extremely tight with only one point dividing the winners Double Duo and runner-up team Par Hexellence, who received a majority of their flying points by impressively, autonomously dropping their EpiPen payload.

Here is Double Duo, Winners of the 2015 Airborne Delivery Challenge, receiving their trophy and certificate -. The prize was awarded by Kathryn Williams (right) of Platinum Sponsor Northrop Grumman. Image: Stefan Hrabar

Winners of the 2015 Airborne Delivery Challenge, Double Duo receiving their trophy and certificate. The prize was awarded by Kathryn Williams (right) of Platinum Sponsor Northrop Grumman. Image: Stefan Hrabar

In a post-event interview on 612 ABC Brisbane radio, Double Duo team captain Michael Phillips discussed attitudes towards drones, how this event showcases the positive aspects and advantages of UAV technology, and how it can be applied to a range of scenarios to help us in the future. We’re sure if Joe could talk and articulate his limbs and digits he would agree and give a big thumbs up.

A big congratulations to all the teams for the great spirit in which they competed and the event sponsors for their continued support.

The UAV Challenge is joint initiative between Queensland University of Technology and Data61 – take a look at our robotics and autonomous systems research page for more information.

The competitors and Joe get together to celebrate the UAV Challenge

The competitors and Joe get together to celebrate the UAV Challenge. Image Stefan Hrabar

 



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