Dstl to drive drone technology with UK and US hackathons

Talal Husseini 14 February 2019 (Last Updated February 14th, 2019 12:18)

The UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), in collaboration with the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and the Wright Brothers Institute (WBI), will hold two special hackathons in the UK and US in an effort to find new applications for drone technology.

Dstl to drive drone technology with UK and US hackathons
The UK Dstl has announced two hackathon competitions to develop new military and public uses for drones. Credit: DFID.

The UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), in collaboration with the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and the Wright Brothers Institute (WBI), will hold two special hackathons in the UK and US in an effort to find new applications for drone technology.

Dstl is encouraging individuals and teams from across the defence industry, as well as academics and members of the public, to take part in the hackathon, which is designed to develop novel uses for unmanned aerial systems (UAS).

One application that will be developed is using UAS for global search and rescue in both a defence and public capacity, which would be useful in emergencies such as wildfires in California.

Dstl Aerospace Systems group leader Tim Wright said: “Small unmanned air systems or ‘drones’ – in the right hands – could offer a way of reducing the burden on the emergency services by mapping and tracking a wildfire in real time, autonomously, so efforts can be focussed rapidly where they’re needed to save more lives.

“We are reaching out to industry, academia, tech start-ups, coders, anyone with new ideas and an interest in drones, artificial intelligence or autonomy to help us find and develop new concepts of controlling drones in the most efficient and effective ways to give as much assistance to the emergency services as possible.”

For the hackathon, the AFRL has developed a bespoke synthetic environment for all participants to develop and demonstrate drone technology together. Emergency scenarios will run simultaneously at both events, and hackers from the UK and US will collaborate via continuous video link.

"Small unmanned air systems or ‘drones’ could offer a way of reducing the burden on the emergency services by mapping and tracking a wildfire in real time, autonomously."

Technologists at the hackathon will be able to explore innovative ways to plan missions using multiple platforms. Participants will not only identify and respond to emergencies, but will also design preventative measures, damage limitation, and life-saving solutions.

Experts from the UK Ministry of Defence, the Dstl and the AFRL are aiming to find the best artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms to help improve the efficiency and resilience of drone technology.

AFRL programme manager Mick Hitchcock said: “The activity fits right into both countries’ desire to approach research differently, and involves non-traditional innovative thinkers as partners and most importantly get results faster. The competition is not between the two countries, but to highlight the ability to rapidly work together on tough problems.

“The winning team from the UK hackathon will be offered a unique opportunity to present their winning ideas and proposal for further exploitation at the British Embassy in Washington, DC.”

The UK hackathon will take place from 29-31 March 2019 at Southampton Solent University, while the US equivalent will be based at the WBI in Dayton, Ohio.