Unmanned Aircraft Systems Competition
UAV students summoned by police

© 2017 FrontLine Security (Vol 12, No 3)

It is not uncommon for university students to have a run-in with the police, however, these students will be running with the police – using their best technology to fly their UAVs in support of a crime scene investigation. The 10th Unmanned Systems Canada Student UAS Competition attracted 14 university teams from across Canada to participate in the annual challenge that will take place in May 2018.

The purpose of the competition is to promote and develop Canadian expertise and experience in unmanned systems technologies at the university and college levels. The students have responded brilliantly to the more complex scenarios to create a world class event. Last year’s requirement to retrieve a goose egg from a nest is a case in point.

UAS are currently used by law enforcement personnel for a variety of tasks such as traffic accident scene reconstruction, search and rescue, and crime scene and event monitoring.  Additional tasks are possible given the capabilities of today’s UAS; law enforcement is interested in exploring the capabilities of UAS for Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) surveillance, delivery of packages to a selected location, and searching for an item. Transport Canada works hand-in-hand with the teams and the organizing committee to push the boundaries of what can be achieved.

In this year’s scenario, Law enforcement has been called to the scene of a suspected bike gang operation in a remote farm building.  They believe that the building contains several members, a large supply of drugs and weapons, and is defended.  Officers are reluctant to approach the house, which has no protected avenue of approach, without a good understanding of the threat.  Each “UAS company” has been called to support the operation.  They will be required to conduct surveillance of the property, to deliver a remote listening device to a location on the property based on results of the surveillance, take photographs through a window, and to search a large area adjacent to the property for vital pieces of evidence. This is a “made in Canada” simulated BVLOS UAS Student Competition. The UAV will go behind the building out of sight from the teams but will always be clearly visible to a team of spotters.

The competition takes place in two phases with the Phase I design report from each team due in January. Weather a unique system or a modified an off the shelf product, the UAS includes a solid airframe design, avionics and sensor software, data post-processing such as automatic target recognition, communications and command and control systems and overall systems engineering.  Phase II, the operational demonstration, takes place May 4-6th 2018 in Southport, Manitoba. Teams will be graded on the quality and completeness of their design reports and the results of their flight demonstrations. Cash prizes will be awarded for each phase and for innovation, perseverance and a unique quality.

To keep with the real-life scenario, each team makes a 5 minute “pitch” about the strengths of their company and why the client should hire them. Making eye contact with the audience, while delivering essential information with simple explanations with polish and flare has been a real challenge for these budding engineers. With the coaching from marketing students and competition staff, they have progressed from reading the script to dazzling the judges. After a safety brief and proof the UAVs comply with safety regulations, the action moves outside for the flying.  Over the course of two days, the judges witness spectacular crashes, no-go from systems that performed flawlessly on the test flight, ferocious winds that test the pilot’s skill, miraculous recoveries and flawless flights.  A report on the findings is due to the judges one hour after landing. Leadership is on the line to keep moral up and focus on a backup plan. The competition is stiff in the air but in the pit it is all about sharing lessons learned, spare parts and comradery.

The event takes place thanks to countless hours from USC volunteers and on site participation. Not only do industry sponsors provide financial support, but enjoy participating as judges and being on hand to observe the students in this live job interview.

Several teams have taken their world class skills to the Association for Unmanned Vehicles Systems International (AUVSI) in a global meeting of 50 teams. The Université de Sherbrooke has won three times beating out the final 24 teams.  Best rotocopter was awarded to École de technologie supérieure.  Other Canadian teams have placed in the top 10. These performances highlight the engineering talent which Canada’s universities continue to produce at a world-class level, and the spirit of innovation which is fueling the growth of the unmanned aerial systems sector both in Canada and the United States.

Competition details: https://unmannedsystems.ca/home/students/student-competition-details/.