UWE and MAAXX Robot Air Races hosted a new event for the Bristol city region last weekend (11-12 February) – autonomous air drone racing.
Anybody could bring along a drone to fly, but on the race circuit it had to be able to automatically pilot itself. The circuit consisted of a red line which the autonomous drones used for navigation. The drones appeared to track or learn the line before accelerating, needless to say there were plenty of mishaps and crashes along the way which added to the spectator experience! The fledgling event attracted international teams and students of aerospace engineering, with UWE students well represented. A leaderboard captured the fastest lap times. Teams were on hand to answer questions about how their drones and automatic piloting systems worked.
The novel event also included a drone flying school and simulators which were popular with people wanting to learn how to pilot a drone. Many people who go on to study aerospace engineering start with flying radio controlled devices and it was great to see the next generation of engineers inspired by piloting drones, and some curious adults who had never had a chance to control one.
Over the weekend, there were several seminars. We listened to a fascinating talk from Kim-Tobias Kohn, Associate Lecture at UWE, who described an ongoing project to convert a glider to an electrically powered aircraft involving UWE students working on the project and links with schools and other universities. It’s hoped the glider will be fitted with PV cells to help recharge the batteries during flight to extend the electric motor’s flight time. Electrically powered aircraft hold the promise of reducing the harmful release of greenhouse gases in the upper atmosphere.
Participants also had the opportunity to work with event organisers for how robot air races could be developed in the future. Ambitions are very high for this event and similar robot events e.g. Robot Wars have a proven track record in attracting an audience.
Let’s hope to see this informative and hands-on event back in the Bristol region some time soon.