Unmanned Aerial Vehicles team group photo 2018
View more photos of the AUVSI SUAS competition.

While many students were enjoying their time away from the Forty Acres this summer, students on the UT Unmanned Aerial Vehicles team, UAV Austin, were busy preparing for the 2018 Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) Student Unmanned Aerial Systems (SUAS) competition held June 13-16 at Webster Field in Maryland. 

This year the Texas Engineering team ranked 6th overall out of 69 competing international and domestic teams—the highest placement the team has come home with since it began competing in 2009. Along with the official ranking, the team was awarded $2,350 in prize money.

The competition was designed to create interest in UAS technologies and careers and to engage students in a challenging UAS missions. Held annually since 2002, AUVSI SUAS includes three components—a technical journal paper, a flight readiness review and a mission demonstration with various mission tasks.

This year’s mission requirements required the following tasks be completed by the UAS system:

  • Interoperability: The UAS uploads the aircraft’s live telemetry information to the judges.
  • Autonomous Flight: The UAS autonomously takes off, flies and lands, all autonomously, and navigates through a series of waypoints.
  • Obstacle Avoidance: The UAS autonomously avoids moving or stationary objects.
  • Object Detection, Classification, Localization: The UAS detects an object’s location and classifies the object using a camera onboard the UAV.
  • Air Delivery: The UAS autonomously drops a payload safely at provided GPS position.

This was the second year that the UT aircraft, Sir Vay Lance, was flown in competition. The team spent the last year refining the UAV by completely changing the wiring, redesigning the nose cone for a larger, better camera and designing a new payload dropper. UAV Austin managed to complete most tasks successfully at competition, with the exception of landing autonomously and detecting objects because of communication issues with the UAV.

Some challenges the students faced during competition included shipping the aircraft, which caused some minor damage to the nose cone, and software malfunctions, such as issues with the camera not working and problems with image recognition. Despite these challenges, team members were satisfied with their results and look forward to making even more adjustments to their UAS in preparation for next year’s competition.

“For me, I think the most rewarding part was just being out in Maryland with an aircraft I put so much of my time into building. Being able to see it fly was such an amazing feeling,” said team member and aerospace engineering major Amanda Kaeni. “I think what I’ve learned and will carry into my future endeavors is how important it is to stay calm when there are problems. We handled everything thrown at us the best way we possibly could have and it worked out. It was such an amazing experience.”


Our hands-on student projects like UAV Austin rely on external funding. To learn how to support our student teams, contact Bliss Angerman at 512-232-7085 or bliss.angerman@austin.utexas.edu