Drone racing event invites families to build autonomous RAF airship or fly in a simulator

Issue date: 14 March 2018

The University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) is to launch the second of its indoor drone events, where families have the chance to build a remote-controlled plane, have a go in a simulator, or construct an autonomous airship with the Royal Air Force (RAF). Budding coders can also take part in a hackathon to programme a drone, while engineers will do the same to get their machines to fly unaided and race each other.

Hosted at the University's exhibition centre from 23 - 24 March, Micro Aero Autonomous Extremes Europe (MAAXX) is Europe's only indoor drone race. Throughout the two days, several teams will battle it out with their flying robots navigating around a 30m oval-shaped track, delineated with a red line on the ground.

The first day is a paying event and is open to industry members, who can attend seminars by sector leaders and rub shoulders with peers. The second day is free and dedicated to families. UWE Bristol and the RAF will be on hand to host several activities for people of all ages. Visitors have the chance to have a go controlling a drone, fly in a simulator, or build an autonomous airship. They can also help build a remote-controlled aeroplane alongside the British Model Flying Association.

The RAF's involvement with the event is part of its commitment to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths) activities for local schools, colleges and the public to commemorate the service's 100 years.

Members of the public can also take part in the event's 'Dronejam' hackathon. This is designed for people interested in software development, who are unable to take part in the main contest. The event's organisers provide a 'house robot,' give participants an introductory masterclass on how to programme it, and set them the challenge of configuring the drone to perform certain manoeuvres autonomously.

As well as providing a fun day out and a challenge, the main competition helps experts learn more about drone technology. Organiser Dr Steve Wright, a Senior Lecturer in Avionics and Aircraft Systems at UWE Bristol, said, “It helps us to learn how to get the UAVs to fly together without colliding, and how we give them enough intelligence to navigate autonomously.

“One of the biggest challenges is getting a drone to fly through a cluttered environment, like a city, without bumping into objects. There is no one answer to these problems and the event produces a whole set of solutions.”

Eight teams have signed up to the competition, comprising three from UWE Bristol, with several others in the final stages of registration. Winning teams will win high-end smartphones, each worth £500, for the drone that flies the fastest, the most impressive trick performed, and the machine that completes the greatest amount of laps.

Dr Wright said, “Although the speed prize is perhaps more appealing, in many ways endurance is more important to the evolution of the technology because there is the question of how you make it work day after day.

“There are so many improvements to be made in this area and during the event, we are not just shaving fractions of a second off, we are trying to make things ten times or a hundred times more amazing.”

Members of the public wishing to attend MAAXX on Saturday 24 March can do so for free. More information here.

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