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AAUS Industry Champions 2020 Announced

AAUS is proud once again to recognise individuals and organisations that have made a significant contribution to the Australian unmanned systems industry.

For the 2020 awards, over 100 nominations were received for the 5 award categories highlighting the strength of our rapidly developing industry.  The finalists made impressive reading and judging panel had a very difficult job in determining the winners.

Unfortunately, AAUS was not able to present the awards at the AAUS Gala Dinner last night (COVID cancellation) but we will highlight each of the winners during the coming week on our website and social media channels.

We congratulate the AAUS Industry Champions 2020.

The Leadership Award recognises individuals or organisations that lead the way with advocacy work that strives to improve the commercial and / or technological viability of the unmanned system industry.

Winner: UAV Challenge (QUT & CSIRO)

The UAV Challenge was first held in 2007 and has run continuously to the current round.  Thirteen High School events have been conducted (remained an annual event), and eight Open events (annual 2007 – 2010, every two years since).

The Open event was initially the Outback Rescue Challenge (2007 – 2014) with Canberra UAV first to complete the full challenge.

The Medical Express Challenge followed, and Medical Rescue Challenge commenced in 2019 (to be flown in 2020).

The UAV Challenge is organised by the Australian Centre for Robotic Vision, Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and Data 61, CSIRO, with the Queensland Government and Boeing being continuously involved sponsors since inception. Insitu Pacific, Lockheed, Northrop Grumman, DST Group, and Mathworks have been long term sponsors.

The Australian Defence Force, CASA, Raytheon, regional councils, and other groups have provided support and judges over the years. 

The UAV Challenge is known on a global scale and has had numerous international teams participate in both the Open and High School Challenges. It has been used as a model for a number of similar competitions.

This Award recognises all who have played a role in the organisation and execution of the UAV Challenge since 2007, being represented by Jonathan Roberts and Andrew Keir from QUT and Dennis Frousheger from CSIRO. Broad Industry BenefitThe UAV Challenge was conceived by the late Professor Rod Walker, Jonathan Roberts, and George Curran to accelerate commercial UAV operations on a number of fronts. The first of these was to promote innovation and development of technologies that would enable advanced concepts of operations, and the second was to work with CASA to understand and expand UAV operations and approvals.

There were a number of other objectives, but these two were the most impactful and visible. The UAV Challenge has made significant impact in terms of product development, with commercial products being developed specifically to address Challenge requirements (board to implement failsafe requirements, and an Australian RF modem). The Ardupilot software has seen development specifically driven by UAV Challenge requirements.  Platforms have progressed from not leaving Kingaroy airfield in 2007, to the majority of teams completing the 32 nautical mile beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) round trip in 2018. The initial platforms had limited autonomy, with the 2018 requirements being no human interaction after issuing the launch command. The technology and capability had come a long way in 12 years.

From the risk and regulation perspective, the UAV Challenge has been proud to work with a progressive regulator in CASA. The UAV Challenge would claim many work leading, if not world first, achievements. The event was conducted at an aerodrome and while closed the airspace was active, and the organisers ensured that local agricultural pilots, fire fighting operations, and the Royal Flying Doctor were never inconvenienced or prevented from normal operations. In 2014 the event was conducted with an open airfield and in conjunction with glider operations.

The UAV Challenge pioneered the use of risk based operational approval requests, and developed a world class operations manual. The organisers understood that it was impractical to subject each team to traditional engineering design reviews and developed strategies to mitigate the risk associated with unproven technology and teams. The UAV Challenge introduced the need for an independent failsafe function, geo-fencing, lost link procedures, GPS lost procedures, etc. well before they became standard practice. The event utilised an aerodrome coordinator to communicate with teams and airspaces uses to provide the necessary situational awareness to support safe, efficient operations.
Another important impact is the number of students and enthusiasts that have been brought into either the aerospace industry in general, or to the unmanned aircraft sector specifically.

The UAV Challenge has sought to provide education through the rules, feedback, and by example. Airmanship has been a principle tenant and aeronautical knowledge the language. Persistence of EffortThe UAV Challenge has been conducted continuously since 2007. The event runs on a limited budget and has been possible because of the in-kind support of a dedicated core team that have been to many if not most events.

The challenge has always been more than the Challenge as seen by the competing teams, with the UAV Challenge Technical Committee working closely with CASA over the years to make sure that each event was a step forward (often a significant step forward) in terms of the operational approval. CASA has never shied away from this aspect of the challenge. 


The legacy of the UAV Challenge is still being defined. Each event is pushing the boundaries and the art of the possible even further. It would be fair to say that the UAV Challenge has achieved its objective to advance the state of the art in technology, operations, and regulatory knowledge and approvals. The UAS/RPAS industry today has been enabled in no small way by the efforts of the UAV Challenge organisers. The UAV Challenge has also proven that working with CASA is a great way to advance the industry and Australia’s reputation as an aerospace leader.

The Innovation Award recognises organisations  that have designed a new product, a new service, a new production or manufacturing process contributing to the advancement of the unmanned systems industry.

Winner: UTS & The Ripper Group

The University of Technology Sydney (UTS) and The Ripper Group have developed and proven operationally Spotter-AI Suite, a leading edge innovation that  has demonstrated the positive impact of the unmanned technologies in  bettering our world.

Together, they have implemented artificial Intelligence technologies namely, SharkSpotter©, CrocSpotter©, and DistressSpotter©. The technologies are also powered by Ultra-low latency (<1 Sec) live streaming from Drones/UAVs, also developed by UTS and the Ripper Group enabling the AI algorithm to process the live feed in real time. SharkSpotter can detect sharks or other marine life (and differentiate between them) in real time with an accuracy >90%, compared to the human observation from helicopters or fixed wing aircraft struggle to attain a detection rate of 30%.

CrocSpotter© can detect Crocodiles and 9 other objects with a reliability of over 92%.

DistressSpotter© performs behaviour analysis to identify people in distress for emergency rescues and disaster management. It is able to identify surfers/swimmers in distress and to notify the authorities to take necessary actions.

SharkSpotter© has already received global acclaim with more than 3500+ media. This breakthrough technology is fast changing safety on beaches world wide, with demonstrations in the USA, China, Japan, South Korea and Reunion Island. Functionality and Practicality:
Functionality and practicality of the Spotter-AI Suite has been already demonstrated, being deployed at 15 beaches across QLD and NSW. The successful surf rescue in January 2018 triggered huge global public acceptance of the technology. The Spotter-AI suite has already assisted in saving more than 50 lives and assisting the lifeguards in making more informed decisions. It has been incorporated into the Westpac Little Ripper lifesaving drones that are fast becoming commonplace on our beaches, especially in the “high shark prone” beaches of northern NSW.  Value, Impact and Effectiveness

The positive impact of the Spotter-AI suite, demonstrated through the various lifesaving operations, has led The Ripper Group to become the official Drone R&D partner with Surf Life Saving Australia and Official Drone Partner of the Westpac Rescue. The solutions are significantly accurate in detecting the targets (e.g. shark, crocodiles, surfer/swimmers in distress, etc.) in real-time, as compared to their trained human counterparts, making the solution very efficient as well as cost effective, allowing continuous surveillance, compared to the existing Techniques – (Helicopters, Shark nets, etc.). Ease of Use/Implementation and


Spotter-AI suite can be scaled and used anywhere in the world through the cloud-based platform (Software as a Service, SaaS) without compromising quality. The world first Ultra-Low Latency (< 1sec) live streaming from the drones, developed by UTS and The Ripper Group has enabled the scalable cloud based solution to be a reality. Intuitive mobile App (TRGAi) has made it easy to use and obtain live real-time video analytics on the phone. The Ripper Group worked on user experience and uptake, through addressing social acceptance (e.g. CASA regulations and privacy).  Additionally, training has been completed for up-skilling indigenous communities and unemployed youth in the piloting of drones to apply this technology. 

Wow Factor:

The Spotter-AI suite and the Ultra-low latency live streaming from drones are newest addition to the UAV ecosystem, with enormous application potential. The solutions are significantly accurate, outperforming traditional approaches and empowering human operators to make informed decisions. This is a groundbreaking example of AI for good in action to serve the community and save lives.

The Education & Safety Award recognises individuals or organisations who demonstrate leadership in educating the unmanned systems industry with particular emphasis of developing a safety-focussed culture.

Winner: Aviassist

Established in 2008, Aviassist is a CASA certified company specializing in drone training.  Over the years, Aviassist has introduced several initiatives to increase the safety culture of individuals, organisations, and the broader RPAS community.  Aviassist were also last year’s recipient of this award.Aviassist has designed and implemented a “Train the Trainer” program for the excluded category; an innovative program providing specific training, akin to an instructor rating for the excluded category. The program was developed to train individuals with the necessary skills to teach others how to safely and competently operate unmanned systems in the excluded category.

While highly recommended, current CASA regulations do not dictate the necessity for specific training for operations within the excluded category and as a result, training is often ignored in this category. However, this is a heavily accessed category for beginners and novice users, as well as those who utilise smaller aircraft. Aviassist identified a weakness in unmanned system training in this category, so created the “Train the Trainer” program to reduce risk to those operating within it. The “Train the Trainer” program encourages organisations operating in the excluded category to implement a higher level of internal training.

The program uses specific activities, both theoretical and practical, that are proven to produce proficient remote pilots who understand legal and practical requirements within the Excluded category, with direct instruction on the topics of; Principles and Methods of instruction, Theory content delivery and Practical training delivery

The program has been undertaken by a number of organisations, giving them the skills to facilitate internal training independently for their unmanned systems training, seeing a notable increase in those educated in safe drone operation.

Aviassist is committed to providing holistic training solutions and the objective of this program is to ensure complete safety within the airspace, including those operating in the excluded category.The program has enabled a higher level of education accessible on a daily basis, embedded within the operating organisation, with oversight from a professional training organisation. This has enabled organisations to service long term operations safely and in line with CASA regulations for safe drone operation.

Ultimately, the result of this program has been significant growth in the number of educated pilots operating in the excluded category, creating a safer airspace for all. 
The training has been developed in alignment with QBE Insurance’s specific criteria, meaning those who complete Aviassist’s program are eligible to apply for public liability insurance through QBE, which dramatically reduces risks for businesses.

The course was specifically designed to meet a demand for safety-focused training for those who do not legally require it, and course structure, length and price reflect this. It is accessible, achievable and realistic.

Aviassist ensures each person is trained in alignment with current regulations, as outlined by CASA, and our highly-qualified instructors ensure a high standard of education and safety at all times.The excluded category presents a great opportunity for businesses wishing to adopt unmanned systems and trial them as part of their operations. This program reduces risks involved, through education and accessibility to more trainers. Through proper education, the goal is to create a large selection of proficient trainers who can then pass on the safety education and legal requirements for commercial drone use within the excluded category.

The Humanitarian Achievement Award recognises individuals or organisations that demonstrate the role unmanned technologies can play in bettering our world.

Winner: John Fardoulis (Mobility Robotics)

John Fardoulis of Mobility Robotics is a person who travels to remote locations in extreme environments to deal with life-threatening hazards in the form of minefields and contamination by unexploded ordnance to help protect vulnerable populations and improve their standard of living.

More than 100 million landmines and hundreds of millions of pieces of unexploded are still scattered around the world, posing unspeakable threats to human and animal life. These devastating legacies of war maim and kill, stifling the capacity to produce food, blocking access to infrastructure and services such as; housing, schools, water, electricity and transport. As a result, division and inequity are fostered, with local communities becoming further isolated, fearing for their: physical, economic and psycho-social well-being. John’s latest (and most challenging) project is funded by the Belgian Directorate-General for Development and led by the Humanity & Inclusion/Handicap International (HI) NGO, working the Republic of Chad, located in north-central Africa.

One of his main tasks has been to develop methodologies to inspect and map (land)minefields using RPAS. Being field-driven, he was embedded in remote humanitarian mine action (HMA) operations in the Sahara Desert during a major part of 2019.

Conditions were difficult, having to camp out in the desert for weeks at a time, facing natural hazards such as sandstorms, scorpions and operating temperatures as high as 51° C, water and food challenges before even factoring in threats from explosive hazards. A full 360-degree approach was undertaken, from prototyping methodology through to field validation, capacity creation and advanced sensor research.

During the embedded trial, John mapped an unprecedented area of minefields from RPAS, over 30 linear kilometres of dense minefields containing more than 30,000 active landmines in one region for example, the most significant RPAS operation in HMA to date. Capacity creation then took place in the form of two bespoke levels of RPAS training, taking local staff who had not seen a RPAS before – to them being competent in operating over minefields in some of the harshest and most dangerous locations in the world.

Operating RPAS in locations contaminated by landmines and unexploded ordnance is no walk in the park – competency is essential. There are no official RPAS standards in Chad, meaning that John had to create an operating framework based on best practice from leading aviation authorities around the world for the mine action authority in Chad the Haut Commissariat National au D’minage (HCND) to endorse for use over minefields. John created and taught the first government recognised RPAS training program in Chad (all sectors), issuing graduates with HCND, government-accredited Level 1 and Level 2 HMA RPAS pilot diplomas. John was also responsible for advanced field-based research, which led to a remote-sensing breakthrough using RPAS thermal imaging to locate live buried antipersonnel and anti-vehicle landmines in dense desert minefields, the first time in a humanitarian context in the world. This breakthrough could provide an impact in dealing with millions of landmines around the world. Other places he has undertaken HMA work include Cambodia, Lao PDR and Kosovo.

The NextGen Achievement Award recognises young individuals (under 35 yo) that demonstrate elite capability and leadership in their field within the unmanned systems sector.

Winner: Amy Steiger (Cardno)

Cardno’s GIS & RPAS Manager, Amy Steiger, is a GISP-AP certified professional and an Esri Desktop Associate. She has worked in spatial services at Cardno for over 10 years and is currently one of eight pilots at Cardno across Australia who is qualified to fly both fixed-wing and multi-rotor remotely piloted aircraft. She has 100+ hours of flight time in a variety of terrains and environments across the eastern seaboard.

Amy has written articles and presented case studies to promote the use of GIS and RPAs. The events that she presented include IPWEA Regional Forums, Ozri, Surveying & Spatial Sciences Institute (SSSI) NSW & University of Wollongong Conferences. She was an SSSI Awards selection panel member in 2018. Recently, Amy received a scholarship to attend the World of Drones Congress (WoDC) in Brisbane and received the Special Achievement award at the Asia-Pacific Spatial Excellence Awards for NSW.

Amy is a strong advocate for the use of RPAs and the difference it is making in service delivery with remote data capture. She is a key driver across Cardno’s business and leads the Australian RPAS team and is working towards a global team of pilots for our organisation. This involves the understanding of flight regulations & legislation throughout 5+ countries and a thorough knowledge of hardware and software capability globally.

Most recently, Amy has been involved in flying along isolated coastal cliff faces in NSW to capture high-resolution photography and derived photogrammetric models to identify geotechnical hazards. She is also instrumental in the roll out of thermal inspection capability in Australia to assist with water leak detection, which in times of drought is a critical tool for utility organisations.

She has promoted the use of RPAs in the viticulture industry, completing multispectral analysis to gain insight into vine health and crop management practices. In conjunction with the wine industry development team from NSW Department of Primary Industries, she presented to vineyards and viticulturists at Spring Vine Health Field Days workshops.

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