Georgia Tech Wins 4th Annual MAV Student Challenge

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May 17, 2016
Contact: Mike Hirschberg
(703) 684-6777 x111

AHS International Announces 4th Annual MAV Student Challenge Results
Georgia Tech Wins 1st Place in the Remotely-Controlled Category

AHS International hosted the 4th annual electric-powered VTOL Micro Air Vehicle (MAV) Student Challenge on May 16, 2016, as part of the AHS International 72nd Annual Forum and Technology Display at the Palm Beach County Convention Center, West Palm Beach, Florida. The international competition is conducted by AHS International’s Unmanned VTOL Aircraft & Rotorcraft Committee, and was sponsored this year by Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin Company. The committee hopes that the annual MAV Student Challenges will lead to advances in this area and help to develop increased expertise by students and universities.

A record 13 teams applied to compete in the 4th MAV Student Challenge — the most ever! This year's teams who were accepted into the final competition are the following: 

Autonomous Category:  

  • Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech Aerial Robotics)
  • North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University 
  • North Dakota State University
  • University of Maryland
  • Vaughn College

Manual Category:

  • Concordia University
  • Georgia Institute of Technology (Unmanned Flying Club)

This year’s competition increased the complexity, as described in the Official Rules, posted at The indoor target search & obstacle avoidance mission consisted of a sequence of phases that involve demonstrating steady-state hover, obstacle avoidance, target searching and acquisition, and return to base in an efficient manner. Teams could conduct either a fully-autonomous mission or a remotely-piloted mission (manual flight) using an onboard vision system. For manual flight, teams switched to camera-based flight after crossing a line-of-sight (LOS) boundary. All aircraft had to remain within the Mission Boundary during flight.

The mission consisted of executing a target “search & monitor” obstacle avoidance, and return-to-base mission — using only an onboard set of cameras. The 2016 MAV Challenge included three targets as well as a wall-like obstacle between the base and the target search area.

One perennial challenge has been for the teams to travel to the international competition, and to safely transport their flying aircraft to the test site. In the end, only four teams were able to conduct flight testing, and only one team completed the challenging test objectives; three teams attempted autonomous flights, and one team attempted manual flight. All the aircraft at the competition were quadcopters.  

The remotely-controlled Georgia Tech Unmanned Flying Club (UFC) quadcopter performed the mission successfully and was awarded first place for the Remotely-Controlled Category.

Unfortunately, none of the autonomous teams were able to fully complete the challenging mission successfully, without some manual takeover:

The autonomous Georgia Tech Aerial Robotics (GTAR) Club aircraft, last year’s winner, was able to avoid the obstacle, stay within 15 ft of the ground, and did acquire and hover over at least one target for 5 seconds. The aircraft thought it detected all three targets, but it hovered off on an angle the other times and re-acquired one target twice. However, it drifted too much on the return flight and had to be manually over-ridden on the way back to the Home Base. The GTAR team received a certificate for "Best Manned-Unmanned Teaming"

North Dakota State's autonomous aircraft experienced difficulties – it did some hops from the home base and did not successfully hover/takeoff. In one attempt, it actually flipped over. North Dakota State received a certificate for "Best Autonomous Hopping Vehicle"

The North Carolina A&T aircraft climbed steadily from Home Base all the way to the ceiling. It landed safely in the lighting rafters about 60 ft high, much to the applause of the attendees. Their kill switch failed to actually disarm the aircraft, and they had no manual override. The NC A&T team was awarded for "Best Autonomous High Altitude Landing," and will be the most memorable competitors for the efforts required to retrieve the MAV.

AHS International again thanks the sponsor of this important student competition: Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin Company.

AHS International – The Vertical Flight Technical Society – has over 6,000 members in more than 40 countries and is the world’s leading technical society dedicated to the advancement of vertical flight technology and its applications. More information about the AHS International Annual Forum & Technology Display is available at

Photos are available on the AHS Facebook page.

Full MAV4 team