DARPA Crowdsourcing UAV Technology

Molly Bernhart Walker of FierceGovernment writes about a great DARPA program to Crowdsource UAV Designs at UAVForge.net.

The Defense Department is crowdsourcing the design, construction and manufacture of an advanced unmanned aerial vehicle system. An advanced UAV is the ideal object for a crowdsourced project, because it shows promise but similar solutions on the market are too costly to develop and complex to use, said a Defense official Oct. 7 during a DoDLive Bloggers Roundtable

“Crowdsourcing has the opportunity to exceed what we could do through other means,” explained Jim McCormick, program manager at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

“This isn’t a sure thing. We’re trying something new and it has a lot of promise, but we’re going to have to work through and hopefully the results will inform similar opportunities in the future.”

The program, called UAVForge, provides an alternative way to tap into innovative strategies of hobbyists, citizen scientists and students, said McCormick. As of Oct. 7, the website received “tens of thousands” of visitors and more than 800 registered users.

In the next 2 weeks, UAVForge teams will submit videos describing their solution and why they should win the competition. Then, 2 weeks later, participants will vote on their peers’ proposals.

“The results will help the teams to determine if they’re on the right track and perhaps might offer some inspiration for them to refine their design towards a more successful track,” said McCormick.

In December, competitors who make it past the first round of voting will live stream a launch of their UAV prototypes. The UAV teams with the best fly-off performance will attend an in-person fly off at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

At Camp Lejeune, DARPA will ask teams to fly UAVs 2 miles, perch, observe through relayed video imagery for a period of two hours or longer and then recover. “There are many complexities in there but at the same time, there’s a lot of challenge associated with the process [radio frequency, FAA approvals, battery life]…these things will benefit from collaboration among individuals and could really fuel further innovation,” said McCormick.

A single manufacturer, selected through scientific review will be paid by DARPA to advise the teams on their design templates, a necessary step for shepherding the original design into a manufacturable product, said McCormick. The manufacturer also helps DARPA determine the “produceability” of the various designs, an attribute factored into the selection of the top 10 finalists. Ultimately the manufacturer will build up to 15 copies of the winning design, he explained.

The winner will get $100,000 and the opportunity to work with a manufacturer.

Visitors to UAVForge.net don’t have to a solution or compete. “If they have expertise in a limited area they can just enjoy what’s going on and share their opinion,” said McCormick. The incentive for individuals to participate is far more important to DARPA than the innovations themselves in this case, he added.

“Our focus is on innovation, regardless to where it comes from.”

See more details at UAVForge.net