Outback Challenge 2014

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Canberra UAV - Winner of 2014 S&R Challenge
Canberra UAV – Winner of 2014 S&R Challenge

outback challenge 2014 sponsors and organizersUAV Outback Challenge 2014


outback challenge 2014 logo




“The 2014 event was held at Kingaroy September 22-26 and followed the same format to the 2012 competition with both a Search and Rescue and Airborne Delivery Challenge. For the first time ever, the Search and Rescue mission task was completed and the UAV Challenge Outback Rescue was won.”

2014 Teams & Detailed Results

Team Country D2 Report Interview Flight Total Drop (m) Time (Mins) GPS tries
Canberra UAV Australia 12.8 14 105.7 132.5 2.6 41 1
Robota USA 7.8 11.5 95 114.3 44 50 1
SFWA Australia 11.3 12 90.2 113.5 232.6 50 3
Team Thunder Australia 10 12 89 111 68 34 1
VAMUdeS Canada 10 10.5 47 67.5 116 47 2
Perth UAV Australia 14.8 14 35 63.8
Compass UAV Australia 14.3 14 31 59.3
Open UAS Netherlands 14.5 15 18 47.5
Swiss Fang Switzerland 14.5 12 18 44.5
MelAvio Poland 14.4 15 15 44.4
Team Aetournos France 12 12.5 18 42.5
Team Condor Columbia 13.7 10 17 40.7
Monash UAS Australia 14.8 14 8 36.8
H2Joe Australia 11.8 10 5 26.8

2014 UAV Challenge Organizers

– Australian Research Centre for Aerospace Automation (ARCAA) (a five-year-long partnership between CSIRO and Queensland University of Technology)

2014 UAV Challenge Sponsors

– Insitu Pacific

– Boeing

– Northrop Grumman

– Mathworks


– Stanwell Corporation Limited


2014 UAV Challenge Supporters

– The Queensland State Government

– South Burnett Regional Council

– UAS Pacific

– Australian Defence Magazine

2014 UAV Challenge Assistance

– VTOL-Aerospace

– Aviation Australia

Raytheon Australia

– Victoria Police Airwing


2014 Search and Rescue Challenge

“Four teams completed the mission task with CanberraUAV winning the $50,000 prize on points. They were also awarded the Rod Walker Trophy for their win. They completed the mission with an autonomous takeoff, a bottle drop accuracy of 2.6m and a fully autonomous landing. One hundred and sixteen Search and Rescue teams registered for the event, with the field of teams being reduced to 20 after the Deliverable 3 qualifying round. Fourteen teams flew at the event and left the airport, beating the previous record of four teams. Four teams successfully completed the task of finding Outback Joe and delivering him at least 500ml of water to within 100m of his location. Team SFWA from Melbourne, Australia, were the first team in the history of the event to complete the mission. A fifth team, VAMUdeS from Canada came close to completing the mission with a drop of 116m. The Search and Rescue competition Airmanship Award was sponsored by Insitu Pacific and was awarded to Pawel Wozniak for his outstanding team leadership and decision making.”

“Day 3 of the 2014 UAV Challenge Outback Rescue was flying day number one of the Search and Rescue competition. The day started with teams being fogged-in. The fog lifted at about 8am and the competition flights could begin. OpenUAS (Netherlands) were here in Kingaroy for a third time and looked to be going well after launch, but quickly had some technical issue relating to their airspeed measurement. Their aircraft came down in the mission area. Next up was Team Condor (Colombia) who could not launch due to technical problems and they elected to go to the back of the flight queue should there be enough time left at the end of the week. MonashUAS (Australia) took to the air and started their
search pattern. They pulled images off their aircraft via their radio link but could not find images that looked convincingly like Outback Joe. They had three attempts at giving the correct GPS location of Joe to the judges but none were correct. They successfully returned their aircraft to the airport. Perth UAV (Australia) were next, launched well and made it to the search area quickly. They soon realised that they
had an onboard technical problem which meant that their onboard Joe detector would not run. Their backup system kicked in an off board processing begun. However, their backup datalink was not fast enough (4G) to upload all images from the search area. They gave one estimate of Joe’s position to the judges but it was not correct. They successfully landed their aircraft back at the airport. Outback Joe had still not been spotted. CompassUAV (Australia) were returning from an attempt at the Challenge in 2012. They launched well and made it to the search area but the range marshals reported that their aircraft was flying too low. Their onboard systems seemed to report a higher altitude. There was an issue! They had one attempt at correctly locating Joe’s position with a position estimate to the judges but this attempt was unsuccessful. They returned to the airport and recovered their aircraft using a parachute. The final team to fly today were SwissFang (Switzerland). They launched well off a ramp and headed to the search area. However, they soon came down unplanned within the mission boundary and their competition was over.
In summary, six teams flew or had an opportunity to fly today. Team MelAvio (Poland) elected to skip their flight slot and went to the back of the flight queue. This leaves eight teams that must be given a chance to fly for the organisers to declare a winner. What a big day! The teams were great and took their
disappointments very well. They were all professional, should all be proud and now all understand what we call the “Kingaroy Triangle”.

“Day 4 of the UAV Challenge was on Thursday 25 September 2014. Remember that date. It was the day that not one, but two teams, finally completed the UAV Challenge Outback Rescue task. And a third team came ever so close. The amazing part is that it’s not all over yet. Tomorrow up to six other teams will fly the course and will try to find and rescue Outback Joe. Yesterday had been foggy early on, but today was kinder – in the morning anyway (more on that later). The fog today soon lifted and a team consisting of two brothers from Melbourne, Australia called SFWA took to the skies. Their aircraft raced to the search area and the searching began. Remember that teams have three chances to ask the judges if they can drop the water bottle and save Outback Joe. They must pass a piece of paper with the estimated GPS location of Joe to a judge who checks whether the position is within at least 100m of the stranded Joe.
SFWA’s search appeared successful and they had a number of candidate images from their vision system. They then had to carefully decided which ones looked the most like Outback Joe. Estimate number one was passed to the judges. Negative! Minutes later a second estimate was passed to the judges. Again, negative! Only one more estimate was allowed. Which one to choose? Finally, a third image looked good and the third estimate was passed to the judges. Positive, green, confirmed! SFWA had found Outback Joe. Permission to drop the water bottle was given and the package was delivered. But was it close enough? Teams must drop the bottle within 100m of Joe and at least 500ml of the water must be recovered at the bottle landing site. SFWA commanded their aircraft to return home not knowing if they had saved Joe or not? Teams must also successfully recover their aircraft at the airport to win the prize of $50,000. SFWA’s aircraft arrived back at Kingaroy airport in great shape and was manually landed via remote control. Then the wait. The range marshall close to Joe raced to measure the drop distance and recover the water. The news came back. They had done it, the drop was close enough and the water was recovered. The UAV Challenge Outback Rescue, Search and Rescue task had finally been completed 2558 days after it was first contested in 2007.

The clouds were still a little low for many of the teams who had a search strategy that involved flying between 400 and 1500ft. So the next team in the flight order that had a sub-400ft search strategy was called up. To their credit they were ready and willing to fly even though they had assumed they would be flying much later in the order. Their team is called H2Joe and consist of three young engineers from
Perth, Australia. Many fans of the UAV Challenge believe that this is the greatest team name ever. Would the unmanned aircraft system match its brilliant team name? H2Joe hand launched their aircraft and it too raced to the search area. However, there was a technical problem. The communication system needed by their imaging system was not functioning. The team would have to collect images and return to the airport to analyse them. But then disaster. The aircraft came down in the search area and ended up lodged in a tree. It was a great attempt and the team took this disappointment so well. 

It was now mid-morning and the clouds had lifted enough for the team from Canada, known as VAMUdeS to take to the skies. They took-off from the main runway and seemed to be in the search area in no time. Their aircraft was fast! They had a two-flight strategy. Go out fast and collect images covering the search area, come back and look through them and then launch straight to the Joe site and deliver the water bottle. That is exactly what they did. The search was soon over and the plane was back on the ground. Towels were placed over the head of the chief image analyst and the image sifting began. Within no time an image with a potential Joe was detected. They relaunched their aircraft immediately and set off back into the search area. As the plane crossed the airport boundary, a team member handed the judges a set of coordinates. It was a positive location! They had correctly identified Outback Joe and given his position to within 100m of his true location. They then handed the judges a second set of coordinates, which were presumably a refinement set from the first set, and these too were declared positive. Permission to drop the water bottle was given and the drop was made. The plane sped back to Kingaroy airport and was manually landed on the main runway. Then the wait, and the eventual disappointing message that the drop was too long and although they had correctly identified Outback Joe’s locate, the bottle landed outside the required 100m radius from Joe. They had not fulfilled the requirements to formally complete the mission. But they had done an amazing job. This was a totally different strategy to the one SFWA had employed earlier in the day and they had nearly pulled off the same result. 

The next team to fly was to have been Rescue Robotics from Newcastle, NSW, Australia, but their declared that they had a technical issue and were put to the back of the flight queue. And then it was team Robota from the USA in their camper van that drove up to the start line. Two guys, two girls, but no dog (that would be Scooby-Doo for you non-cartoon people) in their own Mystery Mobile. They had the smallest plane in the competition and a strategy of keeping things simple. They simply went about completing the UAV Challenge.

Robota is an interesting team in the 2014 UAV Challenge as two of the team members met in Kingaroy in 2010 when they were on different UAV Challenge teams. One was on the University of North Dakota team that came first and the other was on the then Robota team who came second that year. Four years later they were back to show just how it should be done. The aircraft launched and took its time getting to the search area as its a small aircraft and is not fast. High-quality video imagery was streamed back and very quickly Outback Joe was positively identified and the position estimate was confirmed by the judges. Permission to drop was given. The team had clearly not waited four years to rush the drop. They were determined to make the drop of the water bottle as accurate as possible and so made multiple passes over Outback Joe until everything was good enough and the bottle was released. The judges could see
the bottle drop from the live video stream – it looked very good. The aircraft was commanded to return on the tough trip home. The winds had picked up are were gusting strongly. These were headwinds for the return leg, and progress was slow. It took about 9 minutes to arrive. The aircraft was spotted over the end of the runway and a fully autonomous landing ensued. The wait to find out if they had qualified or not for there prize was short. They had done it. The second team in the morning to successfully complete the UAV Challenge Outback Rescue. Four years of planning, developing and practising had paid off. The end of the flying day was close as the winds picked up due to storm activity North and West of Kingaroy.

The next teams in the flight order were stood down and the judges packed up the flight operations area. The day ended there. Tomorrow will be another big day in the history of the UAV Challenge. There are six more teams that may potentially fly and some of them are of course also very capable of completing the task. Remember that the winner is decided on a points system. Teams are awarded points for technical documentation, a team interview, and of course the actual flying mission. There are lots of points on offer for a close drop to Outback Joe and also points for autonomous takeoff and landings. We still do not know who will win the 2014 UAV Challenge but we are all happy that finally, the mission has been completed – and twice in one morning in Kingaroy. The date again was 25 September 2014.”


2014 Airborne Delivery Challenge

“The high-school Airborne Delivery Challenge in 2014 was, for the first time, open to high-school teams from outside Australia. Fifteen teams entered and qualified to attend the event in Kingaroy. The winner of the Airborne Delivery main competition was the all-girls team the DareDivas from Mueller College, Australia. Another all-girls team, from Knight High School in California, came third. The Airborne Delivery competition Airmanship Award was sponsored by Insitu Pacific and was awarded to Russell Porter from Indooroopilly State High School.”


2014 Search and Rescue Challenge Results

Search and Rescue Challenge Team Points Drop Distance (m) Mission Time (minutes) Country
First place and Winner of Rod Walker Trophy CanberraUAV 132.5 2.6 41 Australia
Second place Robota 114.3 44 50 USA
Third place SFWA 113.5 23.6 50 Australia
Fourth Team Thunder 111 68 34 Australia
Insitu Pacific Airmanship Award Pawel Wozniak (Pilot of MelAvio) Poland


2014 Airborne Delivery Challenge Results

Airborne Delivery Challenge Prize Winner School Country
First place A$5,000.00 MUROC DareDivas Mueller College Australia
Second place A$2,000.00 MUROC HexFactor Mueller College Australia
Third place A$1,000.00 Spirit of Niles I Knight High School USA
Search Phase A$2,000.00 Calamvale Euros Calamvale Community College Australia
Insitu Pacific Airmanship Award Trophy Russell Porter (Pilot of Indooroopilly UAV) Indooroopilly State High School Australia


News Articles relating to the 2014 UAV Outback Challenge

South Burnett Times:

Got it first time: Elusive Outback Joe found 

The Canberra Times:

Gang-gang: Canberra’s champion drone


UAV Challenge 2013 (ed- and 2014): $50,000 up for grabs

The Post – Western Suburbs of Perth:

h2joe – West Coast UAV – Local press meets the team! 

The Queensland Times:

Unmanned search and rescue challenge doubles numbers 


Will They Finally Rescue Outback Joe? 

Canberra UAV Wins $50,000 

3RRR 102.7FM Einstein A Go-Go:

UAV Challenge on Melbourne’s 3RRR 102.7FM Einstein A Go-Go


Outback Challenge 2014 – DIY Drones 

Australian Broadcasting Corporation:

The robotic rescue of Outback Joe


This Drone Just Saved Someone Lost In The Australian Wilderness (But That Someone Was Just A Dummy) 


Hardware is Hard – Hardware That Flies is Impossible – 7 Lessons from the UAV Outback Challenge Winners


Mission accomplished: lost bushwalker saved by flying robots 

The Canberra Times:  

Gang-gang: Canberra’s champion drone 




Team Thunder http://diydrones.com/profiles/blogs/team-thunder-s-2014-uav-outback-challenge
Canberra UAV http://diydrones.com/profiles/blogs/canberrauav-outback-challenge-2014-debrief

H2Joe http://h2joe.wordpress.com/2014/10/01/uav-outback-challenge-2014/


Below you will find a description of both the Search and Rescue Challenge and the Airborne Delivery Challenge based on the 2014 event which can also be found on the event’s official website.

Search and Rescue Challenge

Open to: Australian and international university students and aerospace enthusiasts.

The Mission

Outback Joe is lost in the Australian outback and desperately needs assistance. You must develop a UAV that is capable of locating Outback Joe and delivering an emergency package to him.

Where’s Outback Joe?

Your system must be capable of searching an area of at least 2nm x 2nm, up to 5nm from the aerodrome. The target for your search will be a dummy positioned in a typical resting pose in a rural setting.

The GPS coordinates of the search area are provided in Search and rescue Challenge Rules. The air vehicle must not travel outside of the search area or transit lane, for its flight will be terminated if it does so. The search area will be not more that 5nm from the aerodrome.

Over a 60 minute period teams launch their aircraft, conduct their search and locate Outback Joe. Once he has been found a GPS coordinate representing Outback Joe’s location must be provided to the judges.

Rescue Outback Joe!

If GPS location for Outback Joe provided to the judges by the team is within 100 metres of Joe’s location the team will be given approval to deliver the emergency package. The emergency package will contain 500ml of ‘life saving’ water. The package must be dropped as closely as possible to Outback Joe, without landing on him. The UAV will then return to the Kingaroy airport for recovery.

The minimum requirements for the air vehicle are as follows:

The air vehicle must not weigh more than 100 kg (rotary) or 150kg (fixed wing) in the competition configuration

Points will be awarded based on the mission performance including the accuracy of the emergency package delivery, and the team’s answers to questions from the judges prior to the mission.

Additional Deliverables

After meeting the initial registration deadline entrants will be required to submit a short technical report that describes the proposed system design and safety considerations. Later a more detailed technical report which outlines their design approach, methodology for package deployment and operational and safety procedures along with a flight demonstration video must be submitted. Each of these technical reports will contribute to the team’s score. Finally an Autonomous Flight Record that documents a minimum of five hours of autonomous flight must be provided.


Version 1.4 of the rules for the 2014 Search and Rescue Challenge

Waypoint files

Search & Rescue Challenge Layout – 2014SandRWaypoints.KMZ

Please also complete the Compliance Statement.

The prize

Winners in this category will receive AU$50,000*.

The Schedule

The 2014 Search and Rescue Challenge will be held in the week of 22-26 September 2014.

For full schedule details please refer to the Search and Rescue Challenge 2013/14 rules. The key dates are:

Registration closes on 3 July 2013 at 5pm AEST
Deliverable 1: Flight Safety Review At the latest: 7 August 2013 at 5pm AEST
Deliverable 2: Flight Readiness Review At the latest: 23 April 2014 at 5pm AEST
At the Latest: 7 May 2014 at 5pm AEST
Deliverable 3: Autonomous Flight Record At the latest: 6 Aug 2014 at 5pm AEST
Final “Go/No-Go” Announcement of Teams 13-Aug-14
Search and Rescue Challenge 22 – 25 Sept 2014


The Search and Rescue Challenge 2014 will be held in Kingaroy, Queensland.


Airborne Delivery Challenge

Open to: high-school aged students from around the world.

The Primary Mission

An emergency package (shape and size specified in rules) will be made available to competing teams, for use on the day of the competition.

Participants must develop an airborne delivery system that can deliver this package to a lost bushwalker, Outback Joe.

The airborne vehicle will be remotely controlled by a human operator, known as the “UAV controller”.

On the competition day, two hurdles will map out the course and Outback Joe will be position between them. The UAV controller must ensure that the UAV flies above these hurdles.

The delivery of the payload will be controlled either by a human operator, known as the mission manager, or automatically by systems on board the aircraft. In either case the control of the delivery mechanism must be made independently of the actions of the UAV controller. Teams who utilise automatic payload delivery will be awarded a points bonus.

If the delivery of the package is controlled by the mission manger, they and their associated equipment must be located within a designated enclosure that will be 2m x 2m or larger square and barricaded around the edges and covered from the top for safety at all times during the mission. The mission manager will NOT be able to see the target zone during the competition and will NOT be able to communicate with the UAV controller while the aircraft is airborne.

The objective is to deploy the package such that it lands as close as possible to Outback Joe. Points will be awarded based on the proximity of the package to the target, with the points from a maximum of three drops added together. Each team will be allowed 20 minutes to conduct up to 3 drops including all setting up and packing up of any equipment.

The Search Phase

In the optional Search Phase teams must use their unmanned aircraft to search the mission area and read a number of symbols left by Outback Joe. The team that can read all of the symbols in the shortest time will win, although there is a time penalty for reading the symbols incorrectly.

Additional Deliverables

Entrants will be required to submit a technical report which outlines their design, methodology for package deployment and operational and safety procedures. An oral presentation of the technical report information is also required and will be judged along with the other deliverables.


Version 1.1 of the rules for the 2014 Airborne Delivery Challenge are now available.

The Prizes

Prizes will be awarded to the first 3 teams in the Airborne Delivery Challenge Primary Mission:

First Place $5,000
Second Place $2,000
Third Place $1,000
The winning team for the Airborne Delivery Challenge Search Phase will be awarded AU$2,000.

The Schedule

The 2014 Airborne Delivery Challenge will be held in the week of 22-26 September 2014.


The 2014 Airborne Delivery Challenge will be held in Kingaroy, Queensland.