Lockheed Martin, Drone Racing League launch AI tech challenge

By Patrick C. Miller | September 14, 2018

Lockheed Martin and the Drone Racing League (DRL) have launched the AlphaPilot Innovation Challenge in which teams will develop artificial intelligence (AI) technology to enable an autonomous drone to race a pilot-operated drone.

Participants will compete in a series of challenges for a share of more than $2 million in prizes. Lockheed Martin and DRL—the global circuit for professional drone racing—recently announced a multi-year partnership. The challenge plans to enlist university students, technologists, coders and drone enthusiasts to push the boundaries of AI, machine learning and fully autonomous flight.

Keoki Jackson, Lockheed Martin chief technology officer, said the company is working to pioneer state-of-the-art, AI-enabled technologies for applications ranging from fighting wildfires, saving lives during natural disasters and deep space exploration.

“Now, we are inviting the next generation of AI innovators to join us with our AlphaPilot Innovation Challenge,” he said. “Competitors will have an opportunity to define the future of autonomy and AI and help our world leverage these promising technologies to build a brighter future."

The goal of the AlphaPilot challenge is to accelerate development and testing of fully autonomous drone technologies. Challenge participants will design an artificial intelligence/machine learning framework for their drones—powered by NVIDIA’s Jetson AI platform—capable of flying without pre-programming or human assistance. The drones will fly through challenging, multi-dimensional race courses in DRL's new Artificial Intelligence Robotic Racing (AIRR) Circuit.

According to Nicholas Horbaczewski, DRL CEO and founder, the league has been the proving ground for some of the world's most talented human pilots since 2016, showcasing their abilities to race remotely piloted drones at high speeds.

“This challenge changes the game," he said. "How close is AI performance to the world's best human piloting? We're excited to find out next year when AlphaPilot drones compete in adrenaline-packed, futuristic drone races on complex courses in the AIRR Circuit. Our collaboration with Lockheed Martin will both accelerate AI innovation and redefine the sport of the future."

Lockheed Martin’s AlphaPilot Innovation Challenge will open for entries in November. Selected participants are eligible for more than $2 million in cash prizes, including an extra $250,000 award to the first team that outperforms a professional DRL human-piloted drone. Undergraduate and graduate students, drone enthusiasts, coders and other technologists interested in learning more and applying to participate can visit lockheedmartin.com/alphapilot.