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Design Education Using The International Aerial Robotics Competition

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1999 Annual Conference


Charlotte, North Carolina

Publication Date

June 20, 1999

Start Date

June 20, 1999

End Date

June 23, 1999



Page Count


Page Numbers

4.164.1 - 4.164.10



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Wayne Padgett

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 2520

Design Education Using the International Aerial Robotics Competition

Wayne T. Padgett Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology


The Rose-Hulman Aerial Robotics Club is a student team, which participates in the International Aerial Robotics Competition. Their entry consists of a small robotic helicopter instrumented with navigation and video sensors and an on-board computer. The vehicle must navigate autonomously over a simulated disaster scene and produce a map of victims and hazards for use by rescue workers. As the students design, build and test their vehicle, they get excellent design experience at a level beyond what is offered in the academic curriculum. The first half of this paper describes the competition, the club history and organization, and their vehicle. The second half of the paper compares alternative forms of design education in the curriculum and discusses the relative advantages and disadvantages of competitive teams like the Aerial Robotics Club in design education. Competitive teams are clearly an excellent motivational tool and educational experience for the students who participate.

The International Aerial Robotics Competition

The International Aerial Robotics Competition1 was created by Rob Michelson in 1991 when, as president of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems, he wanted to create a forum for both advancing and publicizing the capabilities of unmanned aerial vehicles. Michelson continues to operate the competition each year, with a major event scheduled for the year 2000 competition. Each year the quality and capability of the entered vehicles improves, and the organizers make the rules and mission more difficult and realistic.

The mission for the first competition was not trivial. The vehicle was required to autonomously take off, locate a small metal disk, retrieve it, move to the other end of the field and then deposit the disk. All of this had to be accomplished without human intervention. At the first competition, none of the vehicles had stable autonomous flight. For four years, no team accomplished the mission. In 1995, Stanford brought a helicopter-based vehicle with GPS navigation and essentially accomplished the mission. Since then the mission has steadily increased in difficulty, aiming for a simulated disaster scene in the year 2000 in which the vehicles will map hazards like 40 foot flames, toxic waste barrels, and water spouts, while trying to locate victims and survivors on the field. This difficult mission is designed to showcase the usefulness of unmanned systems in dangerous situations, but it also challenges the engineering students who participate to press themselves to the limit. Controlling an air vehicle to stable autonomous flight is quite a challenge by itself. The rest of the mission just gives the flight a purpose and allows the students to do creative work in a truly open-ended problem.

Padgett, W. (1999, June), Design Education Using The International Aerial Robotics Competition Paper presented at 1999 Annual Conference, Charlotte, North Carolina. 10.18260/1-2--7549

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