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DARPA Design Contest Offers $100K for New Photo, Video Drone

Air Force photo

The Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is putting its money where its mouth is.

The agency has begun a contest with a top prize of $100,000 for creators that can come up with new ideas for the development of drones, according to program manager Jim McCormick.

The competition for a drone called the UAVForge is open to individuals, such as scientists, engineers or aircraft hobbyists, as well as to teams of contestants.

The task is to come up with ideas for a small, silent aircraft that could be controlled from two miles away and monitor people or cars in an urban area for up to two hours while sending back still photos or video.

The competition was first announced last spring and has generated ideas from 93 teams, McCormick said.

The team that wins the contest after a multistage winnowing process will join with a DARPA-chosen defense manufacturer to fabricate 15 of its drones. The aircraft will be used by the military services and in a 2012 operational exercise, probably overseas.

McCormick said there was “no guaranteed success” in using this approach. He said DARPA has already been experimenting with promising prototypes from Defense Department contractors that proved the feasibility of the concept. But he said the prototypes being tested were too costly to produce and too difficult to operate.

The U.S. Army‘s 4.2-pound Raven is said to cost $25,000 apiece and to be able to fly for 80 minutes. A drone called the Wasp, which has a two-foot wingspan and weighs 14 pounds when loaded, is said to have cost more than $40,000 apiece four years ago.

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