Since Fall of 2020, the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) Defend the Republic Competition has pitted government/university research teams with both commercial and custom made, radio frequency-controlled miniature blimps against each other in an increasing test of autonomous flight and task completion. In the penultimate round of the competition, a team comprised of graduate students Tony Lin and Junkai Wang, from the Fumin Zhang Group and Tristan Schuler, Alexander Maxseiner, and PI Daniel M. Lofaro from the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory have floated to a tie for first place.
Using a 2D barcode type “tag” as visual markers for their autonomous vehicles, the mini blimp teams were tasked with capturing a neutrally buoyant ball and scoring goals by manipulating the ball into several hoops without the use of adhesive, or sticky capture systems, or a visual line of sight of the tagged goals by the piloting teams.
Each Defend the Republic Competition event consists of a week of gameplay in which to score goals, with a requirement for increasing autonomy and decreased human input at each level. The eight competing teams in Defend the Republic Round III participated in six sets of hour-long sessions in which each team was allowed two pilots to remotely interface with their blimps for 30 seconds, immediately followed by 4.5 minutes of full autonomy. The Georgia Tech NRL team’s custom designed and fabricated blimp body provided a maneuverability advantage in gameplay moving the team to the final round of the competition that will take place in April of 2022.