DARPA UAV competition shows ‘perch and stare’ recon difficult

By: Mark Rockwell

For all their sophisticated capabilities, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) still have some issues when it comes to ‘perch and stare’ surveillance operations, according to the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency.

Those shortcomings came up at DARPA’s recently completed UAVForge, a crowdsourcing competition at Ft. Stewart, GA aimed at the design, construction and eventual manufacture of an advanced small UAV.

The project, said DARPA on June 28, set out to determine if a loosely-connected community of UAV enthusiasts could develop a militarily relevant back-pack portable UAV with specific capabilities. By using a crowdsourcing design approach, said the agency, the effort sought to inspire innovation and creative thought by lowering barriers to entry and increasing the number and diversity of contributors.

More than 140 teams and 3,500 individuals from 153 countries and territories participated on UAVForge.net  —  the collaborative portal that hosted the year-long competition, said DARPA. UAVForge concluded recently with nine finalist teams demonstrating air vehicles in a fly-off event at Ft. Stewart. The fly-off scenario, conducted on a training site, was a simulated military “perch-and-stare” reconnaissance mission, said DARPA.

The scenario, it said, required the UAV to vertical take-off vertically, navigate to an area beyond the line of sight from the take-off location, land on a structure, capture video, and return to the starting point. While some teams reached the observation area, none were able to land on a structure and complete the mission, said the agency.

Persistent, beyond-line-of-sight, soldier-portable perch and stare intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) is a significant mission area of interest that shows promising capability, but hurdles of asset cost and complexity of use must be overcome, said DARPA.

“The teams brought creativity and enthusiasm to the competition,” said Jim McCormick, DARPA program manager. “The competition was more constructive than you might expect; there were many examples of teams helping each other.”

Since no team completed the fly-off event, the agency didn’t award a $100,000 prize and a design will not be manufactured for further testing in a military exercise as originally envisaged, said the agency.