I have finally written up an article on our successful Outback Challenge 2016 entry
The members of CanberraUAV are home from the Outback Challenge and life is starting to return to normal after an extremely hectic (and fun!) time preparing our aircraft for this years challenge. It is time to write up our usual debrief acticle to give those of you who weren't able to be there some idea of what happened.
For reference here are the articles from the 2012 and 2014 challenges:
The Outback Challenge is held every two years in Queensland, Australia. As the challenge was completed by multiple teams in 2014 the organisers needed to come up with a new challenge. The new challenge for 2016 was called "Medical Express" and the challenge was to retrieve a blood sample from Joe at a remote landing site.
The back-story is that poor Outback Joe is trapped behind flood waters on his remote property in Queensland. Unfortunately he is ill, and doctors at a nearby hospital need a blood sample to diagnose his illness. A UAV is called in to fly a 23km path to a place where Joe is waiting. We only know Joes approximate position (within 100 meters) so
first off the UAV needs to find Joe using an on-board camera. After finding Joe the aircraft needs to find a good landing site in an area littered with obstacles. The landing site needs to be more than 30 meters from Joe (to meet CASA safety requirements) but less than 80 meters (so Joe doesn't have to walk too far).
The aircraft then needs to perform an automatic landing, and then wait for Joe to load the blood sample into an easily accessible carrier. Joe then presses a button to indicate he is done loading the blood sample. The aircraft needs to wait for one minute for Joe to get clear, and then perform an automatic takeoff and flight back to the home location to deliver the blood sample to waiting hospital staff.
That story hides a lot of very challenging detail. For example, the UAV must maintain continuous telemetry contact with the operators back at the base. That needs to be done despite not knowing exactly where the landing site will be until the day before the challenge starts.
Also, the landing area has trees around it and no landing strip, so a normal fixed wing landing and takeoff is very problematic. The organisers wanted teams to come up with a VTOL solution and in this
they were very successful, kickstarting a huge effort to develop the VTOL capabilities of multiple open source autopilot systems.
The organisers also had provided a strict flight path that the teams have to follow to reach the search area where Joe is located. The winding path over the rural terrain of Dalby is strictly enforced, with any aircraft breaching the geofence required to immediately and automatically terminate by crashing into the ground.
The organisers also gave quite a wide range of flight distance and weather conditions that the teams had to be able to cope with. The distance to the search area could be up to 30km, meaning a round trip distance of 60km without taking into account all the time spent above the search area trying to find Joe. The teams had to be able to fly in up to 25 knots average wind on the ground, which could mean well over 30 knots in the air.
The mission also needed to be completed in one hour, including the time for spent loading the blood sample and circling above Joe.