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NCSU CentMesh Drones Challenge - Details

Challenges posted - see below!

In the near future, autonomous and semi-autonomous flying computers are likely to broadly enter commerce, education, and governance fields with sensing, communication, and actuation capabilities. The NCSU CentMesh drones were developed to facilitate teaching and research - about such flying nodes as well as on them. The NCSU Centennial Drones Challenge is an event intended to help improve NCSU awareness and expertise about these future platforms, to increase participation in NCSU drone-related activities, and in general, to have fun!

The CentMesh drones are fabricated using standard hexacopter frame and the well-known Arducopter controllers; but instead of communicating to the Arducopter using a Ground Control Station software (or simply flying it manually like a radio-controlled toy plane), we put a BeagleBone Black, a small Linux computer, on each of them. The challenge consists of pre-programming these computers to fly the drones, so they can perform in true autonomous fashion. For example, a simple challenge could be: "Write a program so that upon execution, the drone will take off vertically, hold altitude at 50 feet, and wait for a message sent via WiFi containing a set of coordinates; upon receiving the message, will move to those coordinates, hover for 30 seconds, then land."

If the program you submit successfully installs and runs on the CentMesh drone platform, and does the job, you passed that challenge. If it could not be loaded or run, or upon running crashed and burned (hopefully not literally!) then you failed the challenge.

First Phase Challenge

The challenge will proceed in phases; only people who qualify in one phase being invited to move on to the next. In the first phase, a programming model based on a Software-in-the-loop simulation will be provided upon registration, together with a set of initial challenges. You can start on any of these challenges whenever you want after you register your team, though we recommend starting early in January and pace yourself. Each challenge will have a time limit (that is, a time withing which the program, when run, completes the challenge). There will be between five and ten initial challenges in this first phase, of increasing difficulty, from trivial to difficult. For some of the challenges, additional resources (such as a collaborator or an advisory model, embedded in the SITL simulation) will be supplied. You can choose to run the simulation on any general computing resource you have access to, or let us know if you would like to come in our lab or the OSCAR labs to do so (available at specific times only). For each challenge, once you are satisfied that the application you have developed can successfully meet the challenge, submit the program to us. Once we are sure it passes our exacting standards (okay, fairly easygoing standards), we will go out and use it to fly an actual CentMesh hexacopter node - you are welcome to participate, and fly the actual thing.

Download First Round Challenges in PDF form.

Second Phase

Your team must clear all the initial challenges by March 31 in order to qualify for the Grand Challenge phase (extended date; see googlegroup posting for more details). When you do so, we will loan you one of our drones to practice on until the challenge. On that date, the Grand Challenge problem will be revealed, and you can start working on a program for it. The Grand Challenge will be a multi-player strategy game. In the weeks between then and the Grand Challenge weekend, each qualifying team will have the opportunity to test their program on adversarial flying nodes by scheduling time with us - however, you will only have a fairly simple minded adversary algorithm (this algorithm will be made openly available together with the Grand Challenge problem). We assume that you, like your fellow challengers, will develop more Machiavellian approaches.

The first team to fulfill the challenge, or the last team standing (or rather flying), will be deemed to have won the Grand Challenge, and the cash prize. This team (and possibly one or two other teams that were close to winning) will be issued another challenge on the spot, and an hour to develop a program to solve it. Beating this challenge will get the team an additional cash prize. This one is non-competitive: any invited team that beats the challenge can claim a prize.

Important Dates

Registration opens: January 1, 2014 (now open)

Initial challenge completion window closes: March 22

Grand challenge: April 12 (raindate: April 13)


To successfully register for this year’s CentMesh Drone Challenge, you must complete the following three steps. You can do so anytime prior to the closing of the initial challenge window, but based on the resources available, we may be unable to accept registrations beyond the first ten teams to register. Each member of your team must individually follow these steps.

Step 1

Download and complete the
CentMesh Drones Challenge Waiver.

Step 2

Return the waiver to Mrs. Lee Ann Clark by either scanning and emailing the signed waiver to laclark2@ncsu.edu, or you can turn it in in person at MRC-418.

Step 3

Complete the Online Registration Form.

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Drone flying on NCSU Oval