UAV Challenge Medical Express rules have been released.

The UAV Challenge Medical Express rules have been released.

The Mission for 2016:

"Outback Joe is at his property in remote Queensland, Australia and has been feeling unwell. He has had a remote consultation with his doctor using video conferencing, and his doctor has requested some blood tests be done as soon as possible. Joe is well prepared, has a home sample taking kit, and has taken his blood sample. The challenge is now to get the blood sample to the lab. Joe’s property is very remote and to make matters worse, it has been cut off by floodwaters.

Teams are invited to attempt to retrieve a blood sample from the remote Outback Joe and return it to base where medical staff will be waiting to analyse it. Teams must deploy unmanned aircraft to Joe’s location, and then return a sample bottle from him utilising a remote landing and takeoff site close to him. They must complete all of this within one hour."

Documentation can be found here:

Rules PDF here:


Challenge FAQ:

Brief overview of the 2016 OBC rules:

  1. Two aircraft are allowed that can detach/reattach to eachother > one as retrieval aircraft and one for support > both can be airborne at the same time
  2. Range required +40km but no more than 60km through "bent" geofenced transit corridor - waypoints will likely backtrack to get the total distance, but will be at least 250m apart. (see FAQ)
  3. Flight must not take longer than one hour so the airframe must be able to achieve roughly 90-100kmh average, as well as be VTOL or STOL (!)
  4. The RF Link range required is approximately 10km (3-4G Mobile and Satellite comms allowed - safety case req. for landing zone etc)
  5. 1500ft AGL altitude restriction
  6. 25knot average wind over 10 minutes will cancel the event (which is higher than last time)
  7. Joe GPS coordinates that are provided are within 100m of Joe. One must locate him and land no closer than 30m, but no further away from Joe than 80m - distance away is scored at 2 points per meter - Joe has lost his colorful shirt but kept his jean pants on - phew!
  8. payload to be picked up is 20x100mm and no more than 100g and must be returned intact back to base.
  9. aircraft must remain motionless for 1 minute after landing near Joe before Joe will approach to place payload - Takeoff Arm switch is required by Joe at pickup location with one minute takeoff delay after activation
  10. Biggest points are for delivering intact sample back to base
  11. Only the top 20 ranking teams through D1-D3 will get to go (based on paperwork, flight logs and videos) - That will be tough
  12. Might not be at Kingaroy this time...

No specifics are given to the makeup of the Joe takeoff landing site or base site, apart from that it will "impede low glideslope landings". So this could allow something like a Skywalker X8 with a quadcopter strapped underneath to launch and fly to location, identify and locate Joe exactly, then detach the quad for payload retrieval, while the X8 stays above the landing zone as RF relay until quad is released to takeoff, then both can head back with the X8 arriving first and possibly landing with a parachute and then the quad with payload some minutes later. A single VTOL might be nice but you'd have to land/takeoff blind without RF link. Helicopters welcome.

Shouldn't be too hard.... I think I have the gear for that here already. Time to dig out old Tinker Bell and send her back to get Joe! ;-)

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  • Yep

    Crazy range. Don't think a multi will work now. To slow to get back in 60 minutes.

    Only a VTOL will do it if you want to get all the points. 

  • Wow, so 20-30km return.   Anybody still planning on dropping an electric quad that would return?  You'd need enough juice to fly for about 45 minutes at 15 m/s.  That's a big ask.

  • Sweet Chris! Might see you there then! ;-)


    Thanks for the update Joshua.

    Looks like the main challenge is to get a VTOL type aircraft that range. I think the comms problem can be overcome with 4G and/or a relay support plane, or even some type of flight termination on comms loss.

    The non-UAV receptacle/winch approach seems nonsensical because you lose the points for automated landing. I think a VTOL and a fixed wing with STOL as support aircraft should be able to do it.

    BTW I've put the FAQ link in the original post now.

  • @JB, looks like I have a team!


  • The FAQ has been updated with 5 new Q&A's, including a couple of my own:

    Q1: How far will an aircraft have to fly from the Base to the Remote Landing Site?

    A1: The flightpath length from the Base to the Remote Landing Site will be between 20 km and 30km. Aircraft must return to the Base from the Remote Landing Site the same way (but in reverse). So the total round trip flight path length of an aircraft that flies to the Remote Landing Site and back will be between 40km and 60km.

    Q2: Can the mobile phone network, or a satellite network be used for aircraft-GCS communication?

    A2: Yes, but teams must accept that there is a reliability risk, and that a team’s safety case (part of Deliverable 3) will have to account for the risk of losing/leaving coverage.

    Q3: What is meant by an Autonomous Landing?

    A3: An aircraft or device that lands on the ground without user input, other than an instruction to land, is considered to have landed autonomously.

    Q4: Can the Support Aircraft pick-up the Retrieval Aircraft or a Retrieval Device from within the Remote Landing Site?

    A4: Yes. However, the button press by Outback Joe on the Retrieval Aircraft or Device must initiate this pick-up.

    Q5: If two aircraft are used, Can one aircraft act as a communication relay for the other?

    A5: Yes.

    Q6: Can a winch from a flying aircraft be used within the Remote Landing Site as part of the mission solution?

    A6: Yes, as long as a winch cable or the load attached to the cable does not come within 30m of Outback Joe while either is attached to the flying aircraft. A flying aircraft or anything attached to a flying aircraft must not come within 30m of Outback Joe. This means that any aircraft that is attached to the sample receptacle must have landed or released the receptacle before Outback Joe will place the Sample.

    Q7: Will Outback Joe be allowed to reposition a landed Retrieval Aircraft or Device to a desired orientation as per instructions written on the outside of said Aircraft or Device?

    A7: No. The only actions that Outback Joe will carry out will be to place the Sample into the Aircraft or Device and press the Arming Switch.

    Big take-aways:

     - Using one aircraft as a comms relay is permitted (although obviously you'll need to detail what happens if comms break down).

     - The "retrieval aircraft" does not have to be powered, etc; it's arguable that it could even be completely mechanical.

     - Outback Joe is not allowed to do anything other than insert the sample and press an arming switch.

      - The retrieval aircraft arming sequence must be the thing that triggers any pick-up of the retrieval aircraft.

  • Hi JB,

    An X8 would have been a great frame for the last challenge, although a good camera would have been need for the fast speeds it can do.

    I agree an X8 would work if it wasn't for the spoilt airflow of strapping a quad or some other hybrid VTOL under it. If you used a separate heli or a hybrid VTOL then the X8 would be perfect as the support A/C.

    I like the idea of automation and now stranger to it, so if I enter I will go down that road but I'll also have manual backup's based upon what I've heard. Things just dont go to plan out there.

    Time is always the challenge, its one of the things that might make it a no go for me but I think I can manage it. On the team size, I'm sure if I get the other two they'll have some others that would be interested. My ideal team size is 5 (2 pilots, 2 GCS operators, 1 person coordinating it all).

    I was thinking of doing the GCS setup in the car and just pull it out ready to go. Same with the airframes but I'm thinking my support AC will need to have a bit more setup than the VTOL, which can take several minutes, plus all the other checks that need to be done. I think 10 mins will still be tight but it's doable.

    I agree on the 6 months, I'm planning to get the airframes up and tested fairly rapidly, the other stuff will be the bits that I see us tinkering with. I'd also be looking at 3 month embargo on changes, even on the software side - I'd rather know how it behaves than try to fix an issue without knowing how its doing to behave in all instances. That is unless a major bug is found.

    I agree that 4G is allowed, I think without knowing the location it will be hard to make a sound safety case, unless there is a backup link, in which case then it should be easy to establish the case. All I was pointing out that those relying on it as the sole form of comms on the ground (such as only using a retrieval a/c) might find that they dont see it that way.

    I'm leaning towards a electric VTOL for the retrival a/c that will be carried there by the support a/c.

    I was thinking about the heli idea, I thought that it will find it hard to fly at those speeds for a prolonged time and still be stable. If it could do the trip at 60km/h it would be perfect airframe for this. This is based upon the specs of the larger UAV Heli designs, most seem to have a top speed of around 80-90km/h. Of course with the right heli design with higher stable top speed then it would work, I just don't have that experience so I'll have to stay in a space I'm more comfortable with.

    LOL, sounds like some of our ideas are very similar, I was thinking along the same lines, having the smarts in the support a/c (pixhawk with companion comp) and have the retrieval just running a pixhawk (with minor custom updates) getting standard instructions over the telemtry link.

    Interesting take on how they score, good to know that.

    Based upon what happened to other teams having spares is not a bad idea.....



  • Hey Chris

    Yeah looks like it might have to be a gasser to get the distance. We could do 60km with X8 fixed wing at 80kmh on lipo's, but hanging a quad or so underneath with the range to get back will mean the quad will be fairly big and not a 250 size, like I expected when I thought we only had to go 15km to get back! The X8 worked well with about 650g of bottle drop payload last time so a 250 hex might of worked...but not now!

    That's cool that you want to enter! Might catch you there if we both make it through.

    I agree that a custom airframe is probably required to meet those specifications. But there's some other avenues, even a heli, that need to be explored before going down the custom path. I think that the strategy really matters in these things, and it's important not to get distracted by all the electronic "gadgetry" to achieve the goal. Last time team Robota came 2nd, completed the challenge and they only flew FPV without any "recognition bling" etc! There is scope to fine tune and optimise....and then over all practice practice practice. Leave yourself at least 6 months of flying the finished platform. Try at least ! :-)

    If you do enter make sure you budget your time, I'd say guess roughly how long things will take...and then double it! ;-) It's crazy how many hours it consumes, and the more people with skills you can delegate workload too the better. Say "bye" to the wife and kids for a few months as well! Three guys is a small team, but hey, last time SFWA done their own autopilot and recognition with just two guys and they were the first to complete the challenge! Made a mockery of us all with big teams! :-$

    Yep no "in cloud" recog anymore, but the imaging and recogntion side is completely different now as there's only a fraction of the area to cover to find Joe. This trickles down through all the systems as well, so for example image transfer over wifi/4G, or even via the telemetry stream will likely work. Check out Canberra UAV's software for that, is second to none, and it's all shared openly. Just be careful that you don't include too many last minute "undocumented improvements". I think their system will likely adapt well to the new requirements.

    Otherwise FPV is an option, at least to specify the landing area of the retrieval craft. If they say "impede low glideslope landings" I'm really not sure what that means exactly. It doesn't exclude fixed wings so long they're STOL, but it would likely mean there should be some space. Landing a 150kg UAV needs to be possible otherwise theirs no point in restricting the rules to that big. That's UL needs to be flyable after landing at base too.

    BTW 4G is allowed according to the FAQ they've posted, provided you can make a safety case on comms loss, which would be the same requirement for RFD900 as well. This will likely mean some type of flight termination on loss of comms for x period or alternatively some way of maintaining comms.

    The setup time shouldn't be too bad. You don't have to build the aircraft in that time. Some teams had their own vans with everything setup inside towing the complete plane on a trailer. It's not that bad, but do practice it a lot. And do checklists!

    On the retrieval airframe I'm still tossing between a heli or a fixed wing dropping off a quad. A VTOL would be nice, and the APM even supports some of this in the code already, but I'm still weighing up all the factors like comms required etc. The payload is small and only weighs 100g, so I'd like to reduce the system overheads and complexities by as much as possible to pick up just that and get it back intact. That's where the points are as well. Points for landing accuracy is a bit of a red hearing I think (not to mention irrelevant to the mission story), not enough reward in that to get 10 points within 20m here or there. A quick aerial shot before landing should be good enough to locate Joe and a decent landing spot within range I think. The retrieval ship could be "dumb" that way which would free up some weight. Then there's the question of taking two or three VTOLs there would be nice as well!

    To win one must fully understand the points and implement a strategy to get most of them. That starts before you even get to the event, through the deliverables, interviews etc. Note that the judge's score card is not as basic as the score list in the rules, their criteria for giving points is also not fully disclosed. Like last time, full points for Joe recognition would have only been given if the system only produced one hit of where Joe was. Despite everyone's efforts no-one achieved that. That's also why team Robota came second with video FPV even though SFWA was closer and had recognition!

    Anyways to win you need to be an ideas long you have the right ones! ;-)




  • Hi JB,

    What are your thoughts on a retrieval A/C?  I've got some idea but will require me really getting stuck into the APM code.  Lots of ideas going through my head at present.


  • Hi JB,

    Both a/c will need to stick to the the waypoints but that should only be to get here and back, I think we'll find that we can loiter or put it into a race track pattern over the destination site while the retrieval a/c picks up the package.  I do tend to agree that there is a collision potential (may not be high but still there), either the support a/c and retrieval a/c will need to operate a different alts (simple solution) or some form of collision detection (more brownie points) will need to be done.  Reading between the lines I think they want people to design an airframe that has endurance and speed, if it only had to cruise at 70 km/h then a straight wing with a decent span would suffice (many off the shelf solutions in this space), however they start to become less efficient as you ramp up the speed - will need to take lots of fuel.  I don't think the electrics are up to the task for a 60+km trip (plus loiter time all in under an hour).  At least with petrol based as you burn it you get lighter, electrics you are carrying the weight around regardless so the savings in motor better be worth it.  

    I'm thinking of entering, I'm trying to convince a friend and his mate that we should do it (you only live once!).  I haven't worked out exactly what I'd use, I have started my list of requirements and possible solutions to those problems.  Once that's done then I'll work on what airframes meet those requirements.  An example is that the support a/c may need to land in limited space, so either really good strong flaps (with a wing design without a tip stall) with strong landing gear or just use a parachute (not sure which once I'd do yet).

    I'm really thinking the support airframe may need to be a custom job if using the support a/c to transport the retrieval a/c.  Mainly due to the fact that we wouldn't be dropping some small bottle, it will be several kg of weight with some reasonable dimensions.  This would have major balance and airflow effects (unlikely to be able to have the retrieval a/c contained inside the support a/c) that wont be simple to work out.  If you could work out those effects then maybe some of the shelf UAV's will work (penguin B, possibly the electric albatross - but I think the chances of strapping something to it without killing it's top speed).  Only other option is to use a retrieval a/c that can go the distance, but this then pushes what current VTOL airframes are doing.

    Ah, wow you get it even worse over there than we do over here on the eastern side :-)  Reading the rules and FAQ I don't think they'd allow that again.  The ODROID will have to behave this time :-)  I'm impressed that you had reception at Kingaroy.  I think they'll allow it as a backup link but I think they are looking at a more reliable solution - I think with there answers we need to read between the lines.

    Some of the challenges I think will be the automated landing detection - I'm thinking they'll give us an area littered with crap with several nice landing spots in it.  I think they intend for this one to take a few iterations to complete but I'll be impressed if a team pulls it off the first time.

    One element I think will be challenge is the 10 min setup time, that will be interesting as the airframes cant be complicated to setup.  I'm not sure how long previous events have given.


  • Hey Chris

    Completely agree that RF range in flight will be fine with the RFD900 out past 10km. It's only the landing that will need a support aircraft relay. The question would be if the support aircraft must also stick to the WP of the pickup aircraft or if it can do it's own thing within the flight corridor.Flying the support aircraft zigzag out to the pickup zone seems excessive.

    We're very familiar with mobile coverage in Australia (Being based in WA!) and we have had experience in using the mobile network at the last challenge in OBC Kingaroy 2014. You're also correct that the only real way through the Telstra NAT is with them activating the Public IP code on a corporate account. Which is exactly how we ran our image recognition "in the cloud" over 4G mobile there at the event, when our on board odroid recognition failed! ;-)

    In saying that it will be even harder for non-Australian teams to get a Telstra corporate account, so that probably won't be an option for most. You can however get Optus Data SIMs with public IP fairly easy, but there coverage is pretty poor, especially out of the cities.

    Do you have any airframe recommendations?


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