Next-Gen: Autonomous Aerial Missions in the Works

Student Competition Profile: The GoAERO Prize Competition

Student Competition Profile: The GoAERO Prize Competition

Competitors design emergency response flyers. Image courtesy of GoAERO.

GoAERO Prize is a 3-year, global competition offering more than $2 million in total prizes to build life-saving emergency response flyers. The flyers are intended to rescue people in danger and respond to challenges posed by medical emergencies, humanitarian crises and natural disasters. There is a call for entrepreneurs, engineers, students, businesses and innovators from around the world to build emergency response flyers to save lives.

Gwen Lighter, GoAERO CEO

Gwen Lighter is the CEO and founder of GoAERO. We spoke to Gwen to learn more about this competition.

Digital Engineering: Can you provide an overview of the GoAERO Prize competition?

Gwen Lighter: The competition was created to address a need for innovations in autonomy-enabled flight that reach people in danger and respond to disaster wherever it is found. In the U.S. alone, nearly 4.5 million people live in “ambulance deserts.” In a medical crisis, people in these areas have to wait as long as 25 minutes or more for an emergency medical crew to arrive. In 2022, there were more than 380 natural disasters worldwide—affecting 185 million people and resulting in the loss of over 30,000 lives. These are just some of the reasons why we’re introducing a global competition to create emergency response flyers.

DE: Can you tell us about some of the designs that are part of the event?

Lighter: While it’s too early in the competition to share specific design examples, the development will follow the three stages of the competition. The first stage—the “paper stage”— requires the digital submission of technical papers. Stage 2 is the building phase, which requires concept validation through a subscale or full-scale flyer. Stage 3 is the last stage and features the Final Fly-Off, during which teams must complete five real-world emergency response missions with their flyers.

It’s important to note that teams can join the competition at any time and do not need to have participated in previous rounds to compete in the next round. Teams also do not need to win a previous stage prize in order to continue into the next round of the competition. We empower teams by providing access to experts in aviation, engineering, design, as well as valuable software, products, funding and legal support.

DE: Can you provide some examples of what the event has produced or what you expect it to produce?

Lighter: The competition’s developed flyers will perform critical missions in medical emergencies, natural disasters and humanitarian crises such as rescuing a person in need, delivering a first responder and transporting crucial equipment and supplies. The flyers will be productive, versatile, robust and autonomy-enabled so they can drive a lasting impact.

The final competition event will entail five separate missions that test specific skills and capabilities focused on adversity, productivity, maneuvering, precision and adaptation. Each mission is applicable to real-world situations including retrieving an injured person from under a forest canopy, delivering water and rations to communities cut off by natural disaster, or rescuing someone who has fallen through the ice on a frozen lake.

New technologies today are enabling simpler, more reliable and more versatile aircraft configurations. Imagine a world where every first responder has life-saving aerial capability enabled by compact size and autonomous operations.

DE: Do your competition sponsors have a particular stance on adopting an innovation that is linked to the program?

Lighter: The GoAERO Prize is supported by an extensive network of internationally recognized leaders in aerospace including NASA, RTX, Iridium, Xwing and other aerospace organizations. Our partners provide mentors, technical experts, judges and other resources to ensure teams have the support they need to pioneer life-saving aerial technologies.

Teams retain full ownership of their intellectual property, so they can choose to pursue business opportunities at the conclusion of the competition. We hope that they choose to do so.

DE: Anything else you’d like to tell us about the event?

Lighter: Emergency responders put their lives on the line to help those in need. They deserve the best, most capable technologies that can perform a wide array of rescue missions. The GoAERO Prize hopes to inspire and catalyze the creation of affordable, portable, versatile and autonomy-enabled emergency response flyers that will help close a critical gap in emergency response technology.

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Jim Romeo

Jim Romeo is a freelance writer based in Chesapeake, VA. Send e-mail about this article to [email protected].

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