Team leader Dr Stephen Prior with some of the Middlesex students involved.

British students to fly the flag at international 'Drone Olympics'

A team of students from Middlesex University will take on some of the world’s top engineers after making the final of UAVForge, an international competition for unmanned air vehicles, held in the USA in May.

The contest, run by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Atlantic, sees the 12 best teams in the world battle it out at Fort Stewart military base in Georgia.

The Middlesex team are flying the flag for the UK, competing against teams from countries including India, Singapore, Holland and the US in challenges that will see their unmanned flying vehicles carrying out tasks including flying for two miles, observing a target for three hours, relaying information back to base and vertical takeoff and landing. All UAVs taking part must be small enough to fit in a rucksack and capable of being operated by a single person.

Middlesex University is the only team to have two UAVs through to the final after impressing a panel of expert judges, an evaluation of the vehicles manufacturability and high scoring in a public vote. If they are successful they could scoop a US$100,000 prize and work with a manufacturer to create up to 15 systems which will shown at an exclusive DARPA operational military demonstration.

Middlesex robotics expert Dr Stephen Prior leads the team, made up of engineering students Mehmet Ali Erbil, Mantas Brazinskas, Witold Mielniczek and Siddharth Odedra. Together they created the two UAVs called HALO and SQ-4 Recon, which IET Students and early career profiled late last year.

“I think we’ve got a strong chance of winning despite facing some of the best engineers across the globe from prestigious institutions like MIT,” Dr Prior says. “We need the UK to get behind us to demonstrate that British universities are still leaders in research and development.

“We have a lot of work to do to ensure HALO and SQ-4 Recon are at optimum performance before the fly-off in May, so we’ll have some long days ahead of us, but it’s incredible to even be through to the final round and to be recognised by an organisation as world-renowned as DARPA.”

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