Stage set for world's first autonomous drone racing competition

Issue date: 07 February 2017


Drone enthusiasts will descend on the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) for a world-first competition.

Part of the university's Frenchay campus will be transformed into an indoor flying arena for remote-controlled aircraft as it hosts the Micro Aero Autonomous Extremes Europe (MAAXX) contest this weekend (Feb 11-12).

The event is the first in the world to exclusively feature participants flying autonomous drones controlled by software rather than machines manually guided by a ground-based pilot.

Staged at the Exhibition and Conference Centre, competitors will set off their devices to navigate a 25m oval-shaped racing circuit while avoiding rival racers.

There will be prizes for the fastest drone; the drone with the greatest endurance; and the most impressive technology or trick - as voted by other competitors.

The competition has been organised by UWE Bristol in partnership with High Tech Bristol and Bath. Researchers and the world's leading aerospace companies will attend the event, which alongside racing will feature workshops and demonstrations. Spectators will be invited to practise their own drone-flying skills in a section of the venue protected with safety netting.

Organiser Dr Steve Wright, a Senior Lecturer in Avionics and Aircraft Systems at UWE Bristol, said: “It's indoor drone flying with a twist – automatic piloting. This is a move away from piloting and is more about software, programming skills, sensors and deployment.

“The course is dead simple - it's a long oval along the lines of Ben-Hur meets Scalextric. The drones will be going around the course as fast as they can, as many times as they can but there will be no human intervention while they are on the course. Competitors will line up their drones in the air in the pits, press go, and then watch them go. This is not about human piloting skills; it is about building machines and systems that can operate without human intervention.

“First person view racing is very interesting but I'm more excited by avionics, software, systems and sensors than airframes.”

Dr Wright said he had kept the rules simple and introduced flexibility in order to attract as many competitors as possible.

He said: “Automatic piloting might sound tricky to some so we wanted there to be minimal barriers to entry. We are being flexible over the rules because we want to make sure competitors have a great time and there is lots of amazing technology on show.

“Drones and electronics are super-cheap, and the software is usually free. The course is simple enough that you can build a test circuit at home and develop your entry.”

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