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Still time to Register: Abu Dhabi hosts “USD3 million competition to design autonomous drone system”

By Chris Stonor

(First announced in September, there is still time to register: (Closing date is December 30th)

 Abu Dhabi is to host a competition with a USD3 million prizepot that challenges engineers to design a system for unmanned vehicles to autonomously search a group of ships and identify a rogue actor/s, reports

The Mohamed bin Zayed International Robotics Challenge is to stage this scenario involving a group of vessels in the ocean off the coast of the Emirate in June 2023. The system will use unmanned drones and boats. The goal is to identify which ones are the “bad actors”. Competitors can use between five and 20 drones to survey a defined area that has no-more than 10 vessels.

The mission must be completed autonomously, with no human help. The challenge, which has never been done before, but is theoretically possible, is expected to be a spectator sport and will be televised live.

Dr Arthur Morrish

Open to international universities, research institutions, companies and individual designers from all over the world, it will involve a collaboration of unmanned aerial vehicles and unmanned surface vehicles, to perform complex navigation and manipulation without using satellite navigation or GPS. The competition is organised by Aspire, the technology program pillar of the Advanced Technology Research Council.

Dr Arthur Morrish, CEO of Aspire, commented, “There are various things that can happen to a country that has a maritime coastline. For example, you have to worry about illegal fishing, piracy, smuggling and human trafficking. And these are not navy issues, but coastguard security issues that impact people’s everyday lives.”

He continued, “What we wanted to do was set up a challenge that would do what robots do best, which is the dull, the dirty and the dangerous associated with that specific problem.”

Dr Morrish admits the task is complex and there is a chance no one will win. “Your job as a competitor is to design a fully autonomous system that will find that needle in the haystack, that bad actor that’s hiding amongst all the others. Yet, you only have limited intelligence.

“So first of all you have to find it. And finding it means that your team is going to get that police report, that intel report, and you are going to give it to your system and from then on, it’s on its own.” Adding, “You are not allowed to look at the feed it sends back to tell it whether it’s right or wrong. That’s the system’s job.”

There are several stages to the competition that will culminate in the challenge in some 18 months’ time. White Papers with ideas are being accepted already until the closing date of December 30th.

To Register

Anyone who shows they are capable of taking on the task will move to the simulation phase. No more than five teams can graduate and compete in the June 2023 Final.

The total prize purse is USD3.25 million with the overall winner taking home a pot of USD2m. The team placed second gains USD500,000 and the team finishing third receives USD250,000.

Meanwhile, a special cash award of USD500,000 is to be awarded to all teams progressing to the demonstration phase with the amount to be split among the teams.

Dr Morrish continued, “What I expect to happen is that this is the first step. We’ll look at what worked and what didn’t work and either Aspire or our clients will want to go and work with some of the competitors. The people we think may want this have very specific needs.”

He concluded, “I won’t be happy, but I guess I’ll be ok if no one wins it this time, being a significant challenge. If so, we will try it again at a later stage.”

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