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Mdx students to fly the flag at international ‘Drone Olympics’

A team of students from Middlesex University will take on some of the world’s top engineers after making the final of UAVForge, an international competition for unmanned air vehicles, held in the USA in May.

A team of students from Middlesex University will take on some of the world's top engineers after making the final of UAVForge, an international competition for unmanned air vehicles, held in the USA in May.

The contest is run by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (US equivalent of the MoD) and the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Atlantic, and sees the 12 best teams in the world battle it out at Fort Stewart military base in Georgia. 

The Middlesex team are flying the flag for the UK, competing against teams from countries including India, Singapore, Holland and the US in challenges that will see their unmanned flying vehicles carrying out tasks like flying for two miles, observing a target for three hours, relaying information back to base and vertical takeoff and landing.  All UAVs taking part must be small enough to fit in a rucksack and capable of being operated by a single person.

Middlesex University is the only team to have two UAVs through to the final after impressing a panel of expert judges, an evaluation of the vehicles manufacturability and high scoring in a public vote. 

And if they are successful they could scoop a US$100,000 prize and work with a manufacturer to create up to 15 systems which will shown at an exclusive DARPA operational military demonstration.  

Middlesex robotics expert Dr Stephen Prior led the team who created the two UAVs (called HALO and SQ-4 Recon) alongside engineering students Mehmet Ali Erbil, Mantas Brazinskas, Witold Mielniczek and Siddharth Odedra.

Dr Prior said: "I think we've got a strong chance of winning despite facing some of the best engineers across the globe from prestigious institutions like Massachusetts Institute of Technology. We need the UK to get behind us to demonstrate that British universities are still leaders in research and development." 

"We have a lot of work to do to ensure HALO and SQ-4 Recon are at optimum performance before the fly-off in May, so we'll have some long days ahead of us, but it's incredible to even be through to the final round and to be recognised by an organisation as world-renowned as DARPA," added Dr Prior.

25-year old Middlesex University PhD student Mehmet Ali Erbil said: "The project has allowed me to become an expert in a number of different areas due to the small size of our team in comparison to some teams we're up against, which are 26 people strong. The finals will be a great opportunity to learn from the research going on in the rest of the world and be part of a community pushing the boundaries of what UAVs are capable of."

View the UAV in action.

Fact box:

Six Rotors (Y6 Configuration)
GPS waypoint control via tablet computer
 Autonomous Take-off and Landing, Altitude Hold and Return to Home
Back packable and in the air in under 60 sec
11,000 mAh Li-Po battery
Mass: 2.5 kg
Video TX – 2 miles Non Line of Sight (NLOS)

SQ-4 Recon:
Quadrotor (four rotors)
Manual control via tablet computer
Altitude hold and return to home
Mesh controller
Small enough to be carried in a webbing pouch
2,000 mAh Li-Po battery
Mass: <200 g
Video TX – 2 Miles Non Line of Sight (NLOS)

The SQ-4 recon was developed in partnership with Cardiff-based defence contractor BCB International Ltd, which makes survival and protective equipment.

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