Sparkfun has just announced the rules of this year's Autonomous Vehicle Competition, and the big news is that drones are no longer part of it for safety reasons. Having witnessed the crash they say precipitated this (which was as scary as they say), I have to agree that the logistics of this competition and limited crowd control makes this a good call IMO. 

First off, the most important change. There is no aerial category for this year’s competition. We know, this is a disappointment to many people, but hear us out. Last year, we had a few too-close-for-comfort calls involving aerial bots and the crowd. We literally have nightmares about someone getting hurt by a quadcopter. One incident in particular (that left a large dent in a chainlink fence), gave us serious hesitation about the safety we could provide our guests.

Furthermore, with the booming popularity of quads and other drones, there are more and more regulations in place. This year’s location (our new building - more on that below!) is quite close to Highway 119 and we are not legally allowed to have aerial vehicles – particularly unmanned ones – zipping around. Also, frankly, there just isn’t the space for it – we want AVC to be the best it can be, and that wouldn’t be possible in the space we have available.

With that out of the way, we do have a number of exciting changes that will hopefully pique your interest!

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This year’s course.

The ground category rules will largely be the same as in the past. You can see the full rundown of rules over on our AVC site. Of note is that we are adding an incentive to folks that do not use GPS in their bots. There will also be a special shortcut to be revealed at a later date.

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Hanging out on our rooftop. It was Halloween - Nate doesn’t always dress like that.

Also, as I said above, this year’s AVC will be at our new building! We are pretty proud of our new digs and are excited to show it off. If you haven’t seen the new place, this will be your chance!

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Casey, SparkFun Engineer and Master of Destruction, is spearheading the combat robot competition. Be afraid.

And finally – and maybe the addition we are most excited about – is that there will be a 1 lb Combat Robot competition! If you haven’t ever seen combat robots in action, it is pretty darn exciting. We are expecting a great turnout and hope to see some awesome destruction.

In addition to the robotics portions of the event, we are planning another hackathon (details to be announced at a later date), as well as project demos, booths from folks in the maker community, food trucks and more!

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Comment by Rob_Lefebvre on February 18, 2015 at 8:06pm

That's too bad.  There were ways to increase the safety of the flying portion.  Unfortunately they didn't listen.  Even if they did nothing but limited the drones to 2kg of mass would have helped a lot.  Rear-engine foamy planes are also reasonably safe.

Comment by Gary McCray on February 18, 2015 at 8:08pm

Bummer! the premier annual drone event now drone free.

On the one hand I definitely understand about the lack of adequate safety at last years events and in fact they were just lucky nobody got seriously hurt.

And now that the FAA has started to take this seriously, I am afraid our simple barn storming days are over.

Probably for the better.

That said, we really need to come up with a viable alternative.

Obviously Sparkfun isn't it, but how about it DIYDrones and 3DR - Hint! Hint!, maybe it's time to take the baton and run with it.

We are really a lot better equipped to handle this than they ever were anyway.

The Bay area is a cool place, and some cool heads working down there ought to be able to figure out what it will actually take to put on a safe (and FAA appropriate) event (although finding a place more than 5 miles from an airport may end up putting you out around Tracy or Angels Camp.)

Maybe we can get our fellow drone enthusiast buddies at Amazon and Google to help.

Worth a thought!

Best Regards,


Comment by F1P on February 18, 2015 at 8:15pm

Rave .... =()

Comment by Crashpilot1000 on February 18, 2015 at 8:25pm

Maybe an indoor small flying drones competition would be the answer?

Comment by Stephen Gloor on February 18, 2015 at 9:02pm

It is all there in APM.  The crashing geo-fence is available and works.  We operated in the 2014 OBC with on an active runway launching gliders.  With the right safety regime drones can be operated safely with basic rules.

Comment by Thomas J Coyle III on February 18, 2015 at 9:19pm

Combat robot competition is already being done in other events across the US. This is nothing new and exciting like it used to be.

We had asked for an autonomous boat competition, but it does not look like it is going to happen since they have moved the competition from the reservoir.


Comment by Jack Crossfire on February 18, 2015 at 9:20pm

Quads are a victim of their own success.  Fortunately, you invested in ground robots.

Comment by Gary Mortimer on February 18, 2015 at 9:23pm

I don't think they ever gave flying stuff the respect it deserves. The take off area next to the lake with a crowd on one side right there, really only suitable for two take off locations. Then lots of water to fly over and make it impossible to retrieve. Gary I have spoken about competitions IRL with Chris with perhaps the T3 being the qualifiers. Maybe it is time to investigate that further.

Comment by Andrew Rabbitt on February 18, 2015 at 10:02pm

Bad move when one of the key players in the field says "drones are too dangerous"

Comment by Hugues on February 19, 2015 at 12:07am

Obviously when a patient is sick, you kill the patient....


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