Aerobot Competition

(with thanks to Chris Thompson, Georgia Tech,

Object: Given a square drop zone of 25 feet by 25 feet, build an autonomous flying vehicle that can launch itself from outside this zone, find a randomly placed target within this area, drop a marker on it, and then return to the launchpad for landing. Competitors will be judged on a point system based upon control ability, drop accuracy, repeatability, and finally run time.

Contents of this page:


For several years there have been a variety of flying robot competitions to perform tasks from flying the English channel unaided to Georgia Techs competition to retrieve disks on the other side of a tennis court. So far, none of the competing devices have succeeded near their designers dreams. In some cases, disastrously not.

The concept of flying robots has a natural attraction. Initially, it would seem that such designs would have an advantage because (obviously) the air cannot be as complex as a fractal surface, as there are less objects to avoid. This is untrue, however. Just because we cannot see or feel subtle air turbulence does not mean it doesn't exist, even inside a closed auditorium. Aerobots are, by far, the most complex and heartbreaking robots to build, but they are a valid and logical design medium. We put the challenge out in the hopes that, like many other robotic games, there must be minimal, elegant solutions somewhere.

The BEAM aerobot competition is designed with the concept of evolution in mind. The task is not daunting, and the designers are encouraged to madly fine tune their designs, tactics, and beacons before the competition begins. Aside from competing, however, the judges are looking for capability, and as with previous games, winners were often chosen just because they did not manage to destroy themselves during flight.

As a design hint, it is recommended that designers use mylar balloons for lift instead of latex weather balloons as the latex is quite porous, and leaks a lot of helium.

Competitor Design Parameters

1.Size is restricted only by access to the exhibition hall through regular institution doors (34" x 84"). It is encouraged that designers bring their competitors uninflated. Helium will be made available on request. Hydrogen based designs, for Hindenburg inspired reasons, will not be allowed to compete.

2.Robots may not use any combustible energy sources for control power. Any energy source may be employed in the design so long as it can be proved that it is non-combustible and does not emit toxic substances. Tethers are acceptable for power and/or data links. Lighter-than-air structures are permissible for lift.

3.Competitors may touch the ground only when outside of the designated drop zone. Competitors must remain aloft while inside the drop zone at a minimum altitude of 24 inches. Multiple takeoffs and landings per attempt are permissible outside of the drop zone.

4.All competitors must be equipped with an emergency cutoff mechanism, remotely operable and demonstrated beforehand to the judges.

5.Target drop-markers may be customized by the designers to the flyers and may be of any inanimate solid design/construction. Drop markers may not be sentient. No paints, dyes, or other dispersive markers are permissible. Parachute deployment is acceptable but not normally required. Resting position relative to the target will be used for accuracy determination. Markers must be less than 8 inches in diameter when fully extended. Distance to the target will be measured from the geometric middle of the markers final resting point.

6.Competitors may position navigation beacons of any non-combustible design, i.e. radio, infra-red, strobe, etc., within the drop zone. If you do not provide your own beacon, one will be provided in the form of a 6" high Mini-Maglite halogen light source with the focusing lens removed. Beacons may serve to identify the area, provide guidance, or establish a reference for navigation. An additional beacon may be left at the stop location for return navigation. No competitor may modify the environment to control ambient noise, lighting, or other distraction.

The Flight Zone

The drop zone will be a square area of approximately 625 square feet (25 ft. per side) comprised of whatever floor color and illumination are typical for the auditorium. Boundaries of this zone will be marked with a 1 inch wide white tape stripe with 1 inch wide black tape stripes on either side. The target will consist of a matte-black circle 2 feet in diameter with a filled white circle 3 inches in diameter at the center. A competitor may place a self-contained beacon of their own design at the center of the target. The object of the competition is for the competitor to lift off, enter the area, find the target, drop the marker as close to the center of the white circle target, and return to the launch point for landing. Successful competitors will be scored on total time required to complete the task plus 1 second for every inch from the center of the white target the marker comes to rest. A minimum height of 24 inches must be maintained at all times while over the drop zone.

The Flight

The flight begins when a robotic competitor completely crosses the start/finish line in the air. A maximum runway length of fifteen feet is allowed for both take-off and return landings. The designer may assist in take-off and landings if desired, but only behind the start/finish line. The starting line will be placed at the end of the runway, right next to the drop-zone area. NO HUMAN INTERVENTION of any kind is allowed while a competitor is beyond the start/finish line except to retrieve a deviant competitor. Any designer input beyond the start/finish will disqualify the competitor's entire attempt. Each competitor is allotted one official attempt only out of three attempts in a 15 minute attempt period. A 10 second bonus will be given to devices which take off and land completely without human intervention during the trial period.

Once airborne, a competitor's path is limited only by the confines of the auditorium and the safety of the spectators as determined by the judges. Any competitors judged unsafe will not be permitted to fly and any unsafe trajectories must be terminated upon command of the judges or by the screams of the audience. Partially completed designs are encouraged for display; however, manual or operator assisted demonstration of capabilities will not be allowed during the competition. These may be included later as time permits.

If machines cannot complete the drop-zone task, then the flyers will be judged upon capability criteria as follows:

Although objective measures will be used as much as possible it should be recognized that measurements involving airborne competitors will be at the final discretion of the judges. Successful completion of any of the above will count as three bonus points towards the winner in that capability (with 2 for second and one for third place). Bonus points will be added onto the aerobots competition point score. It is thus possible to win because a design satisfied some of the above capabilities even though it failed at the dive-bomb competition.