New Swarm and Search AI Challenge Combines Machine Learning and UAS to Help Map Wildfires

(Image courtesy: Wright Brothers Institute)

A new international competition will challenge engineers to map wildfires and conduct search and rescue missions with swarming unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) and artificial intelligence (AI). The Swarm and Search AI Challenge: 2019 Fire Hack  challenge – established by the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory  (AFRL), United Kingdom Defence Science and Technology Laboratory  (DSTL), Wright Brothers Institute , and University of Dayton Research Institute  – will culminate in a March 2019 showdown and explore methods for planning complex UAS swarm operations.

With a focus on optimized mission planning and the ability to react to dynamic changes, competing teams from the U.S. and U.K. will work remotely, via a closed, online collaboration platform to explore different fire-map scenarios using U.S. Air Force -licensed software. AFRL and DSTL are utilizing this innovative approach to find the best artificial intelligence or machine learning algorithms that embody efficiency and resiliency.

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Both labs and teams will benefit by discovering and engaging with new partners and solutions spawned by the challenge may also apply to defense applications.

(Image courtesy: Wright Brothers Institute)

“It is fantastic to be able to work with DSTL on this project,” says Mick Hitchcock, AFRL program manager. “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.”

Once the top 10 teams have been selected, the international showdown will take place from March 29 to March 31 to select the top three teams from the U.S and the U.K. Those teams will be awarded cash prizes and learn about upcoming funding opportunities. The highest scoring solution will be showcased at the 2019 Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) Xponential conference and the U.K. Embassy Showcase in Washington, D.C.

“Swarming UAS is rich with innovation and we are looking to solve perceived problems and invent new ways of controlling swarms of drones,” says Timothy Wright, DSTL aerospace systems group leader. “There are also a number of science and technology challenges already commissioned in this area that link closely with the proposed outputs from this challenge.”

U.S. registration began January 15 and runs through February 26. The online competition concludes March 15.

William Kucinski  is content editor at SAE International, Aerospace Products Group in Warrendale, Pa. Previously, he worked as a writer at the NASA Safety Center in Cleveland, Ohio and was responsible for writing the agency’s System Failure Case Studies. His interests include literally anything that has to do with space, past and present military aircraft, and propulsion technology.

Contact him regarding any article or collaboration ideas by e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..