​The UAV Outback Challenge medical express mission was set in 2014 to send a drone out to a stranded farmer, retrieve a blood sample for urgent analysis and return back to base.

80 international teams initially registered for the competition and through a series of deliverables this number was cut down to 10 teams that were invited to attend the competition in Dalby, Queensland.

The key challenges of this mission were correctly locating Joe, maintaining a reliable telemetry link, and having an airframe that could make the distance and land in a tight space.

The airframe component of the challenge saw the greatest amount of innovation. Of particular note are Canberra UAV who developed the ‘quad-plane’, which is a combination of a quad copter that takes off vertically and then transitions into forward flight. This approach was adopted by many of the teams.

Additionally the Dutch team TuDelft developed a fantastic looking tailsitter aircraft, and Perth UAV who managed to build an extremely light and small quad-plane with excellent performance.

West Coast UAV’s (yours truly) approach was a VSTOL plane that could land very steeply with a combination of reverse thrust and a lidar, and takeoff in a very short distance on an all-terrain wheel.

The competition has just finished now and to say the least there has been some carnage. Of the 10 teams that made it to the competition none have completed the mission successfully. Why? The causes were many and varied from motor failure, power circuits failure, airspeed sensor failure, and some teams electing not to fly. This has definitely been the common theme of the previous challenges; developing such complex systems with many single points of failure and limited testing time it is not so hard to understand.

West Coast UAV succumbed to the same fate. Our plane suffered an anomaly with the launch which put it off course heading for the crowd. We cut the power and the aircraft was intact, however we had to bow out due to the safety concerns. The aircraft itself was quite heavily loaded with batteries and we had been having issues previously with the takeoffs,  however there was not enough time to design, build and test a new airframe. After awarding of points for our technical report, interview and flight the team placed 7th overall which we think is not a bad effort.

Special mention the Canberra UAV again who successfully found Joe and retrieved the blood sample back to base, but crashed their support helicopter and didn’t finish in the 1 hour timeframe so did not complete the mission.

Great to meet all the teams, and well done to the organisers for putting it all together again. And thanks again to our gold sponsors Scientific Aerospace. We’ll be seeing you all again in 2018 no doubt!

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