In an effort to accelerate autonomous drone technologies development in the San Antonio area, a competition was held for college and high school students at the 2021 Digital Avionics Systems Conference. Garrett Hall, Research Engineer of the Embedded Systems Section within the Avionics and Support Systems Department (ASD) of Southwest Research Institute, oversaw the coordination and planning of the college UAS competition. Werner Osorio, Manager of Mechanical Systems Section within ASD, oversaw the high school competition. Three local teams of students from The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), The University of the Incarnate Word (UIW), and St. Mary’s University along with Sinclair Community College from Dayton, Ohio competed. The competition course consisted of four LED-lit gates each with different colors as seen in Figure 1. The objective was for an autonomous Tello drone to take off from a table and fly through the gates in a clockwise path as seen in Figure 2 and land back on the same table. In addition to navigating through the gates, one-inch yellow rubber duckies were strategically placed throughout the course for the computer vision task of object detection. The teams were to be scored on time taken to complete the course and the number of duckies counted.
Figure 1 – A Tello Drone hovers at the first LED lit gate.
During practice, most of the teams were unable to complete the course or detect the duckies. The rules were slightly modified to determine the winners by the number of gates the drone was able to enter and how quickly it went through the gates. The teams were allowed to keep their best run out of four. The team rankings are as follows. Sinclair Community College was unable to enter any of the gates thus finishing in 4th place. UIW and St. Mary’s both flew through two gates each with UIW completing the gate entries more quickly, thus UIW ranking 2nd place and St. Mary’s ranking 3rd place. UTSA was the only team to complete the full course during the last run of their four and won 1st place (Figure 3). High school students watched and cheered as the university teams competed before partaking in their own competition. In the high school competition, students were allowed to have manual control over their drones.