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US Air Force launch open innovation drone contest

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US Air Force launch open innovation drone contest

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The US military have been quite enthusiastic advocates of crowdsourcing over the years, especially through DARPA.

With drone technology advancing apace, it is perhaps no surprise, therefore, that they are turning to the crowd to help them design a new engine for their latest drone devices.

The project is part of a $2 million open innovation competition to provide a 100 horsepower turboshaft engine that can operate on Jet A fuel and “demonstrate a brake-specific fuel consumption less than or equal to 0.55 pounds of fuel per horsepower per hour, and generate at least 2.0 horsepower per pound.”

Whilst there is currently no destination platform for the engine, the hope is that the project will spur innovation in the kind of weight and horsepower range currently occupied by the Predator drone that is the mainstay of the current drone fleet.

“What we’re seeing is a lot of activity down here [for small UAVs], a lot of systems that are in production up here [for large drones like the MQ-9 Reaper and Global Hawk], and this seems to be a place where we can stand to get some technology investment,” the Air Force said.

The Predator drone was first used in 1994 in a spying capacity, before having armored capabilities added a decade later.  It has since developed a significant reputation (both good and bad) for its role in drone combat around the world.

The ‘success’ of the Predator has won admirers around the world, even as it has fallen out of favor in America, with air forces from China to Italy building up their un-manned fleets in recent years.

The moral imperative

It raises an interesting question about morals however.  I’ve covered various studies that set out to explore the motivations of those who participate in open innovation challenges.

Most of these studies highlight things such as contributing to a project that aligns strongly with ones values, and being given a large degree of freedom over how you can contribute to that project.

Whilst there is no doubt a degree of freedom given to how participants can contribute to this drone project, whether aiding in the production of a device used for offensive purposes may be something that undoubtedly puts people off.

If that describes you, fear not, for there are other ways you can contribute towards drone development (for more peaceful means).  Earlier this year, for instance, I wrote about a new platform that has been launched to support the open source development of visual tools for drones.

The machine vision platform, which drones use to navigate, will be open sourced, thus allowing not only apps to be developed, but the platform itself to be improved upon.

“The idea is that because this is an emerging technology it’s not clear what the use cases are that people will want in the future,”the company say.

The expectation is that the system will initially be used for entertainment purposes, but the hope is that longer term it will offer much more meaningful applications in areas ranging from construction to agriculture.

All of which may be a rather more palatable use of your talents than helping to develop a military device.

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