My white paper on the best platform for an indoor UAV contest

[UPDATED: paper is finished and available below]

I've put together a technical assessment white paper for the FIRST robotics league, proposing an indoor aerial robotics contest for 12-17 year old kids (and coaches). Target price is under $1,000 and safety is of prime importance. This paper lists the possible platforms--microplanes, helis, quadcopters and blimps--and discusses the pros and cons of each. At this point I've tried most of the options, from helicopters to quadrotors to blimps to ultralight planes and I'm leaning towards quadcopters and blimps as the best choice.

  • Quadcopters: Pros: very maneuverable, already have a full IMU onboard. Cons: very expensive to do well, hard to fly, can do damage to vehicle or people when things go wrong.
  • Blimps: Pros: cheap, safe, easy to fly. Cons: hard to maneuver precisely, requires inflation, can't lift much weight at indoor size. Cheap UAV versions neither commerically available nor open sourced.

Cost, simplicity and safety pushed me towards the blimps, but I'm concerned about having the kids having to build the autopilot from scratch. Check out the draft of my white paper and tell me what you think.

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Comment by Wayne Dancer on October 31, 2007 at 11:39am
I totally agree with offloading of higher processing. Jr. and Sr. high isn't a research lab trying to miniaturize the systems, just kids trying to do something cool in the time they have available. Also, why not include a hybrid category? For example, an plane/blimp with the blimp portion acting as the main airfoil. Forward flight keeps it aloft like a plane and allows a higher payload, but you can theoretically achieve much lower speeds.

Anyway, it looks awesome! I wish I had stuff like this in high school.

Comment by Gary Mortimer on November 1, 2007 at 1:11pm
I think I would put an oscillating fan in the corner of the hall and see if the blimp could manouever to a point whilst battling the wind!!

Would not the simpliest solution to a task be a winner rather than the application of lots of R&D??

I can think of one cooling task that I know of where one team created a computer controlled temperature environment whilst another simply connected a fan to a solar cell. Sun out, fan on area cooled.

Perhaps not the ultimate in the modern world, but it got my vote!!

As Wayne points out we seem to have been born too early!!

Look for the Cargolifter project for aerodynamic airships. ok so the project failed but the design was cool ;-)

Keep up the good work.

Comment by Howard Gordon on November 14, 2007 at 10:34pm
Nice to see this effort. Some random thoughts ...

Another UAV competition you could mention is . Note that AUVSI is a sponsor of that particular competition, and they could easily get behind your organizing effort.

Other interesting competition formats are RoboCup and eLeague, which are oriented toward soccer, but seem to be branching out. You might look at these for format ideas, even though the focus is different.

When getting this started, I don't know that your choice of airframe is so important, because this can change as the project evolves. That's perhaps a big difference between FIRST and RoboCup - the FIRST robots seem to change every year, while the RoboCup robots and classes are very clearly defined, and they add new classes as they go along. If you think this will evolve eventually along the lines of RoboCup, you might start out with some loosely defined classes (1. lighter than air 2. fixed wing 3. rotary wing), and tighten the definitions as time goes on. Perhaps you should try to visualize what this looks like in 5 years, and then back into how to get started.


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