Canberra rescue drone wins $10,000 prize

Outback Joe

By Elise Pianegonda

A Canberra team has won $10,000 for developing an un-manned aerial vehicle (UAV) which could help rescue stranded bushwalkers.

Leader Stephen Dade and his team ‘Canberra UAV’ claimed first prize at the Outback Rescue Challenge after their UAV successfully located a dummy bushwalker.

The team of 10 amateurs worked for 18 months developing and building their drone, designed to send details of missing bushwalkers to a rescue crew. Weighing 16 kilograms with a 2.5 metre wingspan, the drone is powered by a small petrol engine, similar to that found in a lawn mower.

Mr Dade says the team were thrilled to win the event, which took place in the bushland around Kingaroy in Queensland earlier this month.

“We were given a basic description of the dummy that we were looking for,” Mr Dade said.

“That he would be wearing high visibility clothing, he’d also have a infra-red beacon on him to simulate his body heat.

“From that we were told to design and build a UAV that could search the given search area, find the missing bushwalker, and then relay his GPS location to us at the ground station.”

The Canberra team used a small camera to locate the missing bushwalker.

“We knew the dummy would be wearing a high visibility top and jeans,” he said.

“Because jeans are coloured blue, and you don’t get much blue out in the normal environment, we focused on looking for patches of blue that were approximately human-sized.

“Then checking to see if there was a bright yellow or orange top associated with that.”

But the team narrowly missed out on the $50,000 prize, when the second phase of the competition, to send a bottle of water to the dummy bushwalker, failed to reach its target.

“The bottle came off the UAV about seven minutes into its flight,” Mr Dade said.

“It’s probably better to say it was ripped off our UAV.

“We’re still trying to work it out, but what we think most likely happened, is that a bit of the parachute from the water bottle came un-done during the flight and became stuck in the propeller.”

But the team is determined to try again, already planning improvements to their UAV, for the 2013 competition.