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On Nov. 5, an interdisciplinary team of undergraduate and graduate students affiliated with the Maryland Robotics Center took second place in the autonomous drone racing event at the prestigious 2019 IEEE International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS) in Macau.

This year’s challenge was all about flying autonomously at speed. The challenge for the six competing teams was to fly the drone autonomously through a set of gates, completing as many runs as possible in five minutes. The “TurboTerps” team completed 14 runs in 4:42, for second place. This is one place higher than in their 2018 debut at IROS in Madrid! The winning team was from the University of Tsukuba, in Tsukuba, Japan, about an hour’s drive north of Tokyo. Its drone completed 15 runs in 4:47.

“We missed first place by only two gates!” said team advisor and Assistant Professor Huan “Mumu” Xu (AE/ISR).

The team included Swapneel Naphade, an MSSE student specializing in robotics control; Sharon Shallom, an Aerospace Engineering undergraduate student; and Aerospace Engineering MS student Derek Thompson, a two-year competition veteran. Another team member, Micah Moten, a Mechanical Engineering undergraduate student, was not in attendance.

“We're all really happy with how we did—although we know if we’d had one more run we probably could have taken first,” said Thompson. “We ran into a number of problems the first day, but we managed to work through them and get our system working reliably. It was cool to see teams from all over the world working at the same problem and the different approaches everyone took.”

Competitive autonomous drone racing is an engineering and computer science challenge that requires an understanding of computer vision, the ability to develop algorithms that incorporate the gate detection, and programming logic for the drone to understand when it has completed tasks. Team members do not fly the drones themselves; they must program them to navigate the course on their own.

 



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November 6, 2019


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