The 2014 UAV Outback Challenge was held in Queensland last week, and was a great experience for the team to attend.

Getting there

We had managed to pack all our equipment into a large suitcase and an oversized box, and we took the midnight red-eye flight from Perth on Sunday night. We arrived in Brisbane early Monday morning and rented a car to drive to Kingaroy which is 2 hours west. We stopped by on the way to pick up a camping pole to be used as a mast, and a small fold-out table.

We arrived early Monday morning to Kingaroy, and thankfully upon hearing of our long journey the motel let us check in early so we could have a brief moment of relaxation before registration later that day.

Scrutineering & Team Interview

Once we had registered, we set-up our UAV in a stall set aside from us in the main tent. It was great to see all the other teams, and talk to them about their systems and experiences.

The next step was to get our UAV scrutineered by the competition organiser to make sure it was compliant with all the rules. We had a minor disaster here when the main laptop we were using for the ground control station had a hard disk failure and refused to boot-up. We managed to get the required software installed on another laptop, luckily most of the software scripts that were written were backed-up, so only a few had to be rewritten slightly to the latest version.

H2Joe set up and ready for scrutineering
H2Joe set up and ready for scrutineering. On the right, dedicated supporter Mark Thomas (Mike’s dad)

The scrutineering was relatively straight-forward; a few main points were checked on the system, ie:

  • Independent battery for failsafe system
  • Aircraft appears sturdy
  • Connections secure

The final check for the scrutineering was to walk the UAV across a geo-fence, which would then put it in Flight Termination mode (ie motor shut-down, full bank and pitch-up). When we tested this the Flight Termination mode was activated, however the motor went to full-power! We obviously missed this in testing, but the judges weren’t too harsh and let us fix the issue and redo the test at which point we passed.

The team interview was next. The interview is scored, and the points go towards determining the winner of the competition. When the judges came around and asked us when we’d like to do the interview, we said why not right now? It was great to talk about our UAV, and all the work we had put into developing the different features.

In retrospect it would have been good to prepare for this a bit, as we thought of a lot of other things we would have liked to mention after the interview was over.

Airborne Delivery Challenge

After the Scrutineering & Team Interview was over, we had some time to relax and watch the other part of the competition, the Airborne Delivery Challenge.

The competition comprises of 2 parts: the airborne delivery challenge open to high school students on day 1 & 2, and search and rescues challenge on day 3, 4 & 5.

This challenge involves a pilot flying their craft over a series of obstacles, and a mission specialist who must release an emergency package based on a live video link to drop it as close to a target as possible.

It was great to see what the high school students had managed to put together. The flights were done right nearby so it was good to see the action up close.

Some action different teams around the competition
Some action different teams around the competition

Interesting Features from Other Teams

Taking a look at what the other team’s systems, some interested features include:

  • CompassUAV: using a custom PCB to mount all their equipment on, a prop brake, and a parachute recovery system
  • SFWA: custom developed autopilot system
  • Team Thunder: running an internet server from their on-board computer and 3G modem using UDT library, search strategy to avoid down-wind turns
Group shot of all the teams at the challenge
Group shot of all the teams at the challenge

Hike in Banya Mountains

Too get away from the stress of the challenge, we went for a short hike up in the Banya mountains in the afternoon, which was very refreshing.


Search and Rescue Challenge

Day 3 arrived, and the Search and Rescue Challenge began. Because there were a record number of teams who were competing in this year’s challenge, the organisers had to be very mindful of time. Three teams would go out to the airfield home at a time, and set-up and be ready to carry out their mission. The airfield was quite far away from the main tents, so a live video link was set up so that the rest of the teams could see what was going on.

Teams back in the tent had a live-view of the teams currently carrying out the mission
Teams back in the tent had a live-view of the teams currently carrying out the mission

The teams’ running order was determined previously by the competition organisers drawing names out of a hat. On the first day a total of 5 teams flew: OpenUAS, MonashUAV, PerthUAV, CompassUAV and Swiss Fang. None of these teams were able to complete the mission due to crashing, problems with the imaging or problems with the data connection. Team Condor was up but they had problems in their pre-flight checks and elected to be put at the end of the list if there was still time after all the other teams had had a chance to compete.

On the second day, 4 teams flew: SFWA, Vasmudes, Robota, and yours truly, H2Joe! SFWA were the first team to successfully complete the mission in the 7-year history of this challenge! Robota also successfully completed the mission, and Vasmudes found Joe and dropped the water bottle but were outside the required 100m radius. You can read the full details of H2Joe’s mission here.

On the final day, 5 teams flew: CanberraUAV, Team Thunder, Team Condor, MelAvio and Aetournis. CanberraUAV and Team Thunder both successfully completed the mission. Aeotournis were one of only two teams who were using a multi-copter platform, however unfortunately they crashed. And MelAvio had to pull out after some technical issues in the flight.

The formidable CanberraUAV secured the victory with the highest score in part due to their highly accurate drop of 2.6m from Joe!

Overall it was a very exciting experience to be a part of!