AUVSI SUAS Competition part 2

It’s been an eventful, stressful, and exciting few days for us at the AUVSI SUAS competition; we’ve finally finished with all things competition and are totally ready to get some much-needed sleep. We placed 23rd overall out of a total of 33 teams at the competition. We received a $400 cash prize, and our oral presentation scored fairly high at a position of 15th, beating the first place team who got 18th.

Day one of the competition was mostly getting setup and tested to be certified to fly. As we started the day, we were dedicated mostly to our last minute preparations to our Flight Readiness Review. The FRR was the oral presentation component of the competition; we were required to go over an overview of our system, our safety measures, and the results of our systems testing. In the end, we were able to prepare a nice, organized 15 minute presentation that closely followed the requirements for the review.

Another crucial task on day one was the setup of the autopilot system; this included setting up the failsafes and defining the search areas and boundaries of the field. One component of the competition was navigating the plane through a series of waypoints, and so these also had to be plotted. As we did not feel comfortable flying in fully autonomous mode, our plan was to have Cameron (our safety pilot) navigate using stabilized flight mode through these waypoints, then fly a pattern over the search area.

Day two was when flights started. We arrived early in the morning to set up our system and make small improvements. T here were, of course, various issues that popped up throughout the day. Under the heat, the epoxy glue holding the elevators melted, and we had to quickly remove and repair the elevators. We also worked on creating a better image geolocation algorithm; throughout the day, we were in a rush to finish things because we weren’t certain how long the other teams would take for their flights and when we would be up for ours.

At around 5:00 PM on day two after around 23 teams had flown, they announced that the remaining teams would fly the next day and that we were in the first four.

We finally received our chance to go out and fly on Saturday. Each team was given one chance to complete a mission flight time of 40 minutes. As soon as we arrived at the field we set up our system for our flight. Somewhere within the frantic activities of assembling the plane and taking it out to the flight area, the XTend transmitter lost it’s ability to transmit past 10 meters. We made our way out onto the air strip, setup the ground and imaging stations, the mission time started, and we commenced our pre-flight checks, only to discover the fault in the XTend radio. 17 minutes and 33 seconds into the mission time, Cameron requested a timeout, which was granted. Arshad, Sheldon, and Cameron took off to the nearby St Mary’s College campus to see what was wrong with the radio without interfering with other team’s radio transmissions. After much troubleshooting and testing, the problem was diagnosed: the RF cable connector between the Xtend radio and the antenna was causing attenuation, so was swapped out with a new XTend module which has an RP-SMA connector to allow a direct antenna, foregoing the problem-ridden cable.

The XTend radio we’ve been using reliably for many months

With a remaining mission time of 22 minutes, we hustled out into the field for our second flight. We soon got the entire system up and running: telemetry, R/C, and Wi-Fi links were all functional at the beginning of the flight, and images were being successfully transferred and displayed. However, immediately upon taking off we noticed that the elevator neutral was much too far down. This was because we had to replace it the previous day since the epoxy holding the elevators together softened up in the heat and we obviously mis-estimated the proper neutral. After landing and adjusting the servo positions, we took off to make the most of our remaining 12 minutes of flight time.

During this flight, we noticed that images were coming in at a very sporadic rate, and that only a limited number of images were being transferred. Most of these images were of locations near the runway, and none of them contained a target. The Wi-Fi connection from the onboard Pandaboard to the ground imaging computer was spotty all throughout the flight, which caused certain photos to fail to transfer. After our landing, we tried to transfer the images directly from the Pandaboard to our ground station, but there was too little time to do so and to obtain the target information for the judges; in the end, we handed in a blank target sheet.

Our flight path including elevation

With all the problems with the flight and the different parts of the plane, we still got some amazing data: alot of the search area was covered by Cameron’s impeccable piloting, and a lot of the targets were captured by the plane. GPS and altitude of the plane were recorded beautifully by paparazzi, and we were able to export the data to google earth, where we were treated with a 3D model of the planes path around the flight area.

Cross with I

Pop up target?

Blue Star with 0

Or is this the pop up target?

Quarter Circle with a B

White Sqare with T

Rectangle with N


And here are what some of these targets look like on the ground:

We still need to take a closer look at our GPS data to see how accurately we might have located these targets.

All in all, although we didn’t perform as well as we wanted to at this competition we believe that we’ve made significant progress this year and are looking forward to further development over the summer and through 2013-2014 for next year’s competitions. We’ll continue to work on stuff, seek new members, and update this blog as we rise to meet the many more challenges that are sure to come.