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Autonomous Vehicle Team Scores Again in International Competition

July 11, 2008

A student team from the Autonomous Vehicles Laboratory (AVL) at The University of Texas at Arlington was awarded first place in several categories and third place overall at the Student Unmanned Aerial System Competition held at the Patuxent River Naval Air Test Center’s Webster Field Annex in Maryland. Teams from 14 universities participated in the competition.

Students in the AVL team were aerospace engineering senior Brandon Watters (team captain and pilot), aerospace engineering master’s student Amen Omoragbon (autopilot operator), aerospace engineering senior Sobhan Rahimi (camera operator), mechanical engineering senior Tracy Phillips (target data editor), and aerospace engineering sophomore Agastya Vyas (antenna pointer). Accompanying the team was one of their faculty advisors, Dr. Arthur Alexander Reyes, a senior lecturer in Computer Science & Engineering. Other members of the team who helped in the months leading up to the competition but could not attend were electrical engineering master’s student Pranav Naresh Desai and mechanical engineering master’s student Kartik Kiran Parikh. Other faculty advisors were Dr. Brian Huff (Industrial Engineering) and Drs. Atilla Dogan and Kamesh Subbarao (Aerospace Engineering).

In addition to taking third place overall, the team also won first place for their written project report, first place for their oral presentation, third place for mission performance, prizes for autonomous takeoff and landing, and the NAVAIR “Logistician’s Award” for Best Design for Supportability. For their efforts, the team received $5,250 in prize money.

The objective of the flying portion of the competition was for an unmanned, radio-controllable aircraft to be launched and transition, or continue, to autonomous flight. It then had to navigate a specified course and use onboard payload sensors to locate and visually capture a series of targets before returning to the launch point for landing. The UT Arlington team’s aircraft performed its takeoff, waypoint navigation and landing autonomously. Each team was required to complete these tasks within 40 minutes.

“‘Murphy’s Law’ paid us several visits on the competition day,” said Dr. Reyes, “but the team’s experience and assistance from two of the other teams enabled us to successfully troubleshoot the system in time to complete the mission within the time limit.”

The team was supported in part by a grant from the Texas Workforce Commission – “Education/Training Programs at UT Arlington for Autonomous Unmanned Systems.”

Teams from the Mississippi State University and Utah State University won first and second place overall, respectively. Competing teams included the American University Sharjah, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, North Carolina State University, UCLA, UC San Diego, University of Manitoba, University de Sherbrooke and others.

This is the third time that a team from the AVL has entered this competition. In 2005, the team won first place for Best Overall Performance, plus the Best Mission Performance and Best Safety Design awards. The team’s system performed a completely autonomous mission, including automatic takeoff, GPS-guided navigation and automatic target imaging, and was the first in the history of the competition to perform an automatic landing. In 2006, the team took third place. In 2007, the team exhibited their aircraft and system, but did not compete.