Entrants to AlphaPilot autonomous drone competition announced


Nine teams have been accepted into the  2019 AlphaPilot Innovation Challenge and have earned a spot in the Drone Racing Leagues’s (DRL) inaugural autonomous drone racing series, the Artificial Intelligence Robotic Racing Circuit, which is taking place later this year.

The AlphaPilot Challenge is an open competition to develop artificial intelligence (AI) for high-speed racing drones. As part of AlphaPilot the teams will design an AI framework capable of piloting racing drones through high-speed aerial courses without any GPS, data relay or human intervention.

The teams will then compete in the Artificial Intelligence Robotic Racing (AIRR) Circuit, a four-event season later this with a $1 million cash prize sponsored by Lockheed Martin. An additional $250,000 reward will be given to the first team whose autonomous drone pushes the limits of performance between human and machine, and bests a human-piloted drone.

The nine AlphaPilot teams, comprised of 69 students, drone technologists, aerospace engineers and coders from across the world, are:

  • ICARUS from Atlanta, USA; affiliated with Georgia Tech’s School of Aerospace Engineering
  • Formula Drone from Los Angeles, USA affiliated with UCLA
  • KEF Robotics from Pittsburgh, USA
  • MAVLab from Delft, the Netherlands, affiliated with the Delft University of Technology
  • TEAM USRG @ KAIST from Daejeon, the Republic of Korea; affiliated with the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST)
  • Team Puffin with four team members from the USA, Sweden and Australia
  • UZH Robotics and Perception Group from Zurich, Switzerland, affiliated with the University of Zurich
  • Warsaw MIMotaurs from Warsaw, Poland
  • XQuad from Minas Gerais, Brazil, affiliated with the Federal University of Minas Gerais

Lockheed Martin chief technology officer Keoki Jackson said “We’re already accelerating AI-enabled autonomous technologies that help astronauts, military service personnel and first responders do demanding, dangerous jobs more safely and efficiently.

“Through our Innovation Challenge, we look forward to working with these teams at the boundaries of AI and fully autonomous flight, and digitally transforming the way we fight wildfires, orchestrate disaster-and-recovery operations and support our front-line service personnel.”

DRL CEO and founder, Nicholas Horbaczewski said, “The combination of robotics and AI will fundamentally change the future of sports. We are thrilled to watch history be made as the AlphaPilot teams introduce AI pilots as racers for the first time in AIRR.

“Witnessing a moment when AI will defeat a human pilot will be a paradigm shift in how we think about the role of AI in our lives.”

The AlphaPilot Challenge launched in November on the HeroX innovation social network platform, attracting entries from 424 teams in 81 countries. Teams competed in a series of qualification tests earlier this year.

A panel of industry experts has evaluated the entrant’s technical strategy and capabilities in developing image-classification algorithms and performing in simulated racing environments.

Christian Cotichini, CEO and co-founder of HeroX said, “At HeroX, we believe in the power of global collaboration to solve the world’s most pressing problems. The AlphaPilot Challenge demonstrates the power of crowdsourcing to unite industry experts, researchers, and students to create the future of disruptive AI technologies.”

To help the AlphaPilot teams prepare for AIRR, the DRL is to provide hardware including standardized racing drones with an onboard AI platform, the Nvidia Jetson AGX Xavier. Lockheed Martin engineers and AI specialists will also provide ongoing mentorship to assist with teams’ code development.

More information about the AlphaPilot teams can be here.

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About Author


Ben has worked as a journalist and editor, covering technology, engineering and industry for the last 20 years. Initially writing about subjects from nuclear submarines to autonomous cars to future design and manufacturing technologies, he was editor of a leading UK-based engineering magazine before becoming editor of Aerospace Testing in 2017.

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