Since I first posted here about this competition last October, we've been pretty busy.  NASA selected Development Projects Inc. (DPI) of Dayton, OH to be our partner and run the contest.  We've selected Camp Atterbury, Indiana (in the restricted airspace around Himsel Army Air Field) to be the location, and we're working on putting everything in place so we can stage the competition in mid-May, 2014.


We've made quite a few changes based upon feedback we received from everyone and assembled a new set of Draft Rules and a draft Team Agreement for you to look over and give us your feedback. We're trying to cast a wide net and run a contest that will be open and fair to any group that plans to work professionally with unmanned aircraft in the U.S. National Airspace System.

A big part of our preparation is putting together a "Traffic Squadron" of unmanned aircraft that can create the air traffic for the competition. We're using some large scale RC planes and outfitting them with Ardupilots and ADS-B transceivers.


DPI has has put up an initial web site and they have posted the new drafts of the rules and the team agreement on this page:


You can also sign up for the competition mailing list on this page to be informed of future developments:


I look forward to your comments!


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  • Pbreed,

    The 900MHz ISM band radios (like an XBee or Freewave radio) work between 902 and 928 MHz and the ADS-B UAT frequency is 978 MHz. Have you experienced interference problems between these systems in the past? For Phase 1 of this competition, competitors will only need to have a UAT (978 MHz) receiver onboard, so you'd only have to worry about the ISM transmitters impacting the performance of the ADS-B receiver.  

    As far as telemetry streams go, we've had good luck running multiple telemetry streams in the 900 MHz ISM band by setting them to different channels/hop patterns.  We are running tests now to see what kinds of problems we run into when we mix brands of radios in the same frequency band on the same aircraft.  We're trying to get this information out as soon as we can so that integration issues like this can be identified and solved well ahead of the competition.

  • First, thanks to everyone for taking the time to read our draft documents and offer comments! I think that your feedback is vital to getting a final set of rules that will foster a healthy and fair competition. In that light, I want to emphasize that these are most definitely draft rules and we are excited to get them in front of the UAS community so you can point out where we don't have the proper balance or where we've overlooked something. If something in this draft is stressing you out, let us know. I would especially be interested in any features that you think would keep you from competing. Please be specific, though, and give us your rationale for any changes you'd like to see.

    I'll respond to comments here, but I'd really appreciate it if you would also submit your comments through the UAS AOC web site. People are judging the level of activity there to gauge the overall level of interest in the competition.


  • Hitting 4D waypoints is not really pushing the state of the art forward, I tend to think it's OK to drop that part of the competition.

  • Please understand that I believe NASA is trying to do their best in managing this program.

    My frustration, as well as the frustration of some others here, is that the team I'm working with has spent the last 9 months developing some pretty impressive technology that solves many of the technical issues of the NASA UAS Challenge. In that time, we have spent thousands of dollars of our own money, and over a thousand hours of our own time, developing, integrating and testing these technologies. We did this in good faith and with the full intention of competing professionally in the challenge, knowing that NASA was trying to foster innovation -- even from individuals. 

    Now, however, given the surprising and late news of a large entrance fee, and the recent rule changes, we are likely not to enter at all. It's water under the bridge and there's not much that can be done by me or my team other than to move forward on other projects. 

    My hope is that NASA is listening and will at least take a bit more care in the management of future challenges so that they stay true to their formally stated missions. 

  • While I understand and share the frustration we all feel regaring the rules changes, I think the idea of the Term "Professionally Operating in the US Airspace" is indeed an important one. The thing we can not do at this point in any way is mount any commercial operation un U.S. Airspace using a UAV. The purpose of this is to foster ideas and solutions to intergrate them safely into the system in a reliable but cost effective manner.


    That being said the Entry Fee is a major barrier, and I am supprised that someone of wealth and means has not stepped up and put up the prize money and or sponsored the event.

  • Sorry to say this, but NASA has really messed up the management of this Challenge program. Here is the very first sentence of the original NASA UAS Challenge announcement published way back in November of 2012:

    "The NASA Centennial Challenge Program is designed to foster individual, academic, and private sector innovation to solve difficult problems that are important to NASA and the nation."
    Note that it says individuals, not just professionals. I agree with Randy that groups of individuals can be innovative and can compete with the pros, if given a fair chance. Although this contest initially intended to encourage individuals, it has now effectively shut the door with an unreasonable entry fee and revised rules geared towards the pros.
    If the government truly wants to spur individual innovation, the cost of the contest should not be imposed on the contestants, who must already freely devote their time and resources to the effort.  
    Also, as Tom mentioned, the rules of the challenge were changed significantly from the original announcement. Another rule change example is that surrogates (i.e., full size aircraft that act as UAVs) are now allowed in the contest. This is ridiculous and is simply unfair to those who intend to fly actual UAVs, which are much more limited due to their smaller scale. 
    Regarding the entrance fee, would it be unreasonable to expect NASA to have at least mention an entrance fee at the very outset? Better yet, to provide a ball park figure for the entrance fee? 
    Anyway, good luck to NASA. They are now likely get a smaller number of Challenge entrants and therefore less innovation. 

  • Moderator

    @Pbreed you are spot on the flying part is easy these days. Integration of sub systems and keeping them living is hard. That said I have seen a UK vision based system that already makes this requirement. I have even heard it said at a meeting that all GA aircraft should be made to fly with it so they can meet the standards expected of UA. That was from the regulator not the room. Birds were the issue that we were shown....

  • For small UAV there are really only two easily licensed radio bands that will satisfy the performance requirements of this contest, 900Mhz and 2.4Ghz.  The aircraft is required to have a ADSB reciever at 978Mhz making 900Mhz radios problematic....it also has a separate tracker unit... likely 2.4Ghz, what frequency do they expect the telemetry/GCS to operate on?

    The RF integration of all of this on a small aircraft is hard, and the effective  requirement that you get a licensed radio in some other band is another barrier to small DIY drones style aircraft participating.

    (Note that since there is prize $ you can not use amateur band equipment)

    ADS B is on 978Mhz, the system includes a radio modem.... (Likely 2.4Ghz as 900Mhz will make ADSB reception problematic...) 

  • Developer

    The 7k entry fee is a bit tough for most individuals which is too bad 'cuz I think more and more that a mass of individuals and often beat the pros.  Still, I suspect that keeping costs undercontrol was required so someone had to pay for the event so I guess it's the contestants!

    I'm happy that you're using arduplane to create the other additional traffic.

  • At least in the above text, this contest has been clearly labeled as being for "professionals" and not DIY. As mentioned above, this is "a contest that will be open and fair to any group that plans to work PROFESSIONALLY with unmanned aircraft in the U.S. National Airspace System."

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