Competitions Featured

NIST – The Unmanned Aerial Systems Flight and Payload Challenge

alti uas
This competition seems to have been scripted for separate lift thrust. There are plenty of off the shelf examples that will more than fulfil the brief these days.
Cost per flying unit might then become more critical, along with training and tech support.
These are the elements that I think I would score higher than the actual airframe. No good designing a machine that can fly for 24 hours but needs 72 hours to turn back around to return to service.
I will follow this competition with interest.
Submission Dates: 3 p.m. ET, Jan 09, 2018 – 9 p.m. ET, Jan 29, 2018

Join us for this exciting UAS (unmanned aerial systems) prize competition using your ingenuity and hardware build expertise to create a concept for a UAS prototype. The result of the UAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems) Flight and Payload Challenge will support the public safety community and its stakeholders.

One of the barriers for UAS used in a public safety realm is payload versus flight time. Vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) UAS provide many different mission capabilities, but their flight time is limited. The payload capacity, energy source and flight time are linked through design trade-offs that can be optimized for efficiency and flexibility. This challenge is designed to keep the UAS and its payload airborne for the longest time possible to support first responders’ communication technology on the ground while they conduct their search. The advancement of UAS research will help search and rescue operations support payloads for wireless communications or other life-saving goods to save lives.

NIST Public Safety Communications Research Program is hosting this 3-stage challenge, with prize awards totalling $432,000 (includes travel, prototype & cash prizes) for the top 10 designs.  In addition to the cash prize, finalists will showcase their UAS and flight skills with paid travel to the NIST Robotics Lab and the 2018 PSCR Stakeholder conference, where pilots will demonstrate their prototype, engage in speaking opportunities and network with 500+ attendees. There are no fees or qualifications needed to enter the first stage.  The Stage 1 winning ideas will be eligible for remaining stages of the competition. (see Official Rules)

You can make a difference!


For questions about the Challenge or Official Rules, contact [email protected].


Stage 1: CONCEPT PAPER CONTEST (open 1/8/18 – close 1/29/18)


Stage 3: LIVE TEST & EVALUATION CONTEST (open 5/20/18 – close 5/24/18)


Stages Contest Description Review Criteria Summary Number of Contestants Awards
1 Concept Papers Strategic Alignment & Technical Outcome; Feasibility & Team Open to all eligible contestants Invitation to introduction and challenge kickoff webinar.$20,000 for each team of contestants or contestant entering the contest.
2 Prototyping, Hardware Build, and Video Test & Evaluation Hardware component review & UAS specification and safety review, minimum flight time and payload achieved. up to 10 Access to NIST Robotics Test facility for Live Test and Evaluation contest.Up to $10,000 in invitational travel funding for each team of contestants or contestant entering the contest.
3 Live Test & Evaluation  UAS specification andsafety review, minimum flight time and payload achieved. up to 10 First Place: $50,000Second Place: $40,000

Third Place: $30,000

Up to $4,000 in invitational travel funding for each team of contestants or contestant entering the contest to demonstrate their work at the PSCR Annual Stakeholders Meeting in June 2018.


This document outlines the official rules for the UAS Flight and Payload Challenge. Nothing within this document or in any documents supporting the UAS Flight and Payload Challenge shall be construed as obligating the Department of Commerce, NIST or any other Federal agency or instrumentality to any expenditure of appropriated funds, or any obligation or expenditure of funds in excess of or in advance of available appropriations.


The following is a summary of each contest. For more information, please review the full terms and conditions for each contest as provided throughout this document.

STAGE 1: Concept Paper Contest

The Concept Paper Contest invites all eligible contestants to complete a concept paper outlining their knowledge, skills, capabilities and approach for this challenge. Contestants’ concept papers will be reviewed by a panel of subject matter experts and judges who will select those contestants to be invited to the challenge kickoff webinar. Contestants selected by the judge panel will be eligible to move forward to the Prototyping, Hardware Build and Video Test & Evaluation Contest.

STAGE 2: Prototyping, Hardware Build, and Video Test & Evaluation Contest

In this contest, the contestants will purchase or create the hardware necessary to implement the approach outlined within their concept paper. Contestants will purchase or create (for example, using 3D printing or machining) the hardware or parts necessary to build their prototype UAS to the specifications and required safety standards. Once the build is complete, contestants will be required to complete a series of Video Test & Evaluation flights designed to ensure the contestants complete minimum requirements for safety, hardware configuration, flight time and payload with their prototype UAS. Contestants who complete this stage successfully will receive an invitation to the NIST Robotics Test Facility and up to $10,000 in invitational travel funds to attend the final Live Test & Evaluation contest.

STAGE 3: Live Test & Evaluation Contest

The Live Test & Evaluation contest is the final contest of the series. Contestants will complete a series of live test flights to demonstrate their prototype UAS flight time and payload capabilities. All contestants UAS will be tested and evaluated. Contestants completing at least the minimum standards will be ranked and, based on those rankings, will receive up to $120,000 in award prizes. First place: $50,000, Second place: $40,000, and Third place: $30,000. In addition, up to $4,000 in invitational travel funding for each team of contestants or contestant entering the contest to demonstrate their work at the PSCR Annual Stakeholders Meeting in June 2018.

Judging Criteria

Criterion 1: Strategic Alignment & Technical Outcome – 50%

This criterion involves consideration of the following factors:

Strategic Alignment – The extent to which the proposed approach meets the objectives listed in the goals of the challenge; the responsiveness to the firefighter and law enforcement scenarios; the likelihood that successful implementation of the proposed solution will have a significant real-world impact.

Technical Outcome – Extent to which the proposed approach will result in significant improvement in commercially available technology and will potentially result in a technical outcome which enables considerable progress toward the challenge goals.

Criterion 2: Feasibility & Team – 50%

This criterion involves consideration of the following factors:

Team – The extent to which the capability of the contestant(s) can address all aspects of the proposed project with a high chance of success, including, but not limited to, qualifications, relevant expertise, and time commitment of the contestants. Reviewers will evaluate: (a) The relevance of the qualifications and experience of the key staff, leadership, and technical experts. (b) The extent of the applicants’ prior experience and the quality of the results achieved in leading programs similar in nature to the purpose, scope, etc.

Plan – Contestant(s) plan to manage the limited schedule, resources, project risks and other challenges, and produce high quality project outcomes, in pursuit of the challenge goals.

* SEE Official Rules for judging criteria associated with all other Stages of the contest

How to Enter

  • Visit, to review the series of contests in the UAS Flight and Payload Challenge.
  • Complete the submission requirements for the Concept Paper Contest, submit the required concept paper and summary slide, and, as an option, include sketches or mock-up video with your entry as a registered contestant via by the required date.
  • Additional information on how to complete a contestant entry is available at:
  • One entry per qualified contestant.

Similar Posts