On the road with the SkeptiAtheHumanist (Skeptic, Atheist, Humanist): In North Dakotaby Don Lacey on Aug. 06, 2012, under Critical Thinking, Economics, Environment, Freethought Events, Government, History, Logic, Science
Nancy and I have a day of reduced activity after the 22nd Annual IARC (International Aerial Robotics Competition). It was a great contest, probably the best we’ve ever had. We arrived here on Saturday and the last flight of the contest completed yesterday, Thursday afternoon. Tonight there will be an awards banquet. Twelve teams were here to compete (you’ll notice that some are competing in China) and seven made flying attempts in the arena. There will be awards for the best presentation, best paper, most innovative system, and the best team T-shirt and other awards…
For 22 years, collegiate teams have been attempting to autonomously perform a mission using unmanned flying vehicles and this year not one team finished the mission. The contest is unique in the field of collegiate contests—this contest is not designed to be done by every competing team. In fact, it is expected that no team will complete the mission in the first year. I could go on and on about this highly technical contest. In the 22 years of the contest, I’ve only missed attending one…in 1994.
As an interested observer and judge, I’ve been there for all 6 missions. The first mission was a straight technology challenge. The vehicles had the task of moving a brightly colored disk from one area to another while passing over a small wall. It took 5 years to finish that mission. The second mission attempted to address a real world problem. The vehicles in that contest were to search out, find, and identify hazardous waste barrels. It took two years to accomplish the mission. The third mission occurred as the world was facing the scary prospect of the arrival of the new Millennium. The vehicles had the task of finding and identifying survivors and hazardous waste spills in a post-apocalyptic scene complete with flaming column of fire, a water jet, and a field of debris. It took three years but a German team was able to solve the technological challenge. Mission 4 was about terrorists, or a nuclear tragedy, or an ancient archeological dig where an unknown pathogen was found. We ran the very complicated competition for 8 years at three different venues and then we ended it. There was no final solution but it had gone on long enough. The fifth mission was about a nuclear mishap and it was solved in only one year by a team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
This was the sixth mission and it wasn’t solved in North Dakota this year so the prize money will increase by $10,000 and we’ll try again next year unless there is a winner in the Chinese venue. The prize will be $40,000 and we’re sure to see many of the same teams competing.
The future? As far as I’m concerned, we’ll keep doing this contest every year and continue to push college teams to the frontier of technology. We’ll continue to build contests that can be relatable to real world challenges and we’ll continue to stress autonomous systems. Speaking of autonomous systems there are many people that will be interested in the landing of the Mars Curiosity Mission this Sunday. The information about how the landing went won’t arrive at earth for 14 minutes after it’s all over. During the landing the space ship will be on its own; it will be AUTONOMOUS. There is no other way to do it. Autonomous systems are here now and will continue to advance in the future.