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


Art from every angle: the GLAM 3D transformation

By Minky Faber

Have you ever been to a gallery or museum exhibition where only the front of a sculpture or ornament is visible in the display cabinet? Perhaps there is a dawdling family of six, gawking at the intricacies of the 2nd Century Roman bust. Maybe it’s a gaggle of slow moving art students analysing every crevice of a Greek vase.

Regardless, it can be a frustrating experience for the curious inquisitor. Firstly, getting a close-up vantage point amongst the crowd for an uninterrupted view, then that awkward moment when you peer in on such an angle that your head hits the glass.

What if you could explore the item with your fingertips from every angle in life-size scale? Wouldn’t it be something to view the inside of a crown of jewels or an extinct specimen from every point of view?

Hands on experience with the Myth and Magic exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia

Hands on experience with the Myth and Magic exhibition. Credit: National Gallery of Australia

We’ve joined forces with the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) to create a new way for visitors to interact with the artefacts currently on show in the Myth + Magic: Art of the Sepik River, Papua New Guinea exhibition; showcasing the intricate sculptural art of the Sepik River region.

The art of the region uses many different materials including: timber, pig tusks, feathers, shells, bone, hair, teeth, fur, and clay. It is often because of the age, fragility, and pricelessness of these materials that we are required to stand behind red rope and glass to appreciate and explore the relics.

To overcome this issue our Data61 research team, in collaboration with the National Biological Research Collections and the Atlas of Living Australia, developed a new 3D content deployment platform using open web standards to transform the physical exhibits into fully interactive digital sculptures.

Visitors can interact with the touch screen and view the artwork close-up, from the bottom or the back, and learn more about the intricate details and the culturally significant features: like symbols and materials.

Of course the digital version won’t replace seeing the real thing, but the additional information will complement and enhance the experience.

This technology isn’t entirely new. We have used 3D scanning capabilities to great affect with InsectScan, a way for researchers to easily capture digital 3D models of tiny insect specimens in full colour and high-definition. Building on this existing technology for the NGA’s Myth + Magic: Art of the Sepik River, Papua New Guinea exhibit is one way we are improving and tailoring our work for other organisations and institutions.

3D modelling allows visitors to check out all the nooks and cranny's of these Papua New Guinean artefacts.

3D modelling allows visitors to check out all the nooks and crannies of these Papua New Guinean artefacts. Credit: National Gallery of Australia

The NGA is just the most recent example of our work with the Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums (GLAM) sector, and we have been working with a number of organisations to embrace digital innovation.

Science is often the inspiration for art, from van Gogh’s Starry Night to the physiological sketches of da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, so we’re excited to continue that tradition and build on this symbiosis of disciplines and extend the understanding of art in microscopic detail through advances in digitisation technology.

So, if you’re in Canberra before 1 November, make sure you head down to the NGA to check out the Myth + Magic: Art of the Sepik River, Papua New Guinea exhibition and let us know what you think of the real and digital artworks in the comments below.