News in Brief

Faster drone approval, DOD's Lab Day and a big-dollar robotics challenge


Senators unveil bill to speed drone approvals

Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and John Hoeven (R-N.D.) on May 12 introduced a bill meant to accelerate the approval process for commercial users to deploy unmanned aircraft systems.

The bill was welcomed by UAS makers as an expedient way to allow industry to use the increasingly popular systems, while the Federal Aviation Administration works through a larger set of regulations.

The measure would set interim safety rules and seek to better use FAA test sites to facilitate research in new UAS technology.

The United States "is falling behind other countries because we lack rules for the safe operation of commercial UAS technology," Booker said in a statement.

Robotics Challenge worth $3.5 million in prize money

It may not be the breathless hyperbole that preceded the Pacquiao/Mayweather fight, but the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is pumping up its upcoming experimental robot competition throwdown in June.

DARPA's Robotics Challenge competition pits 25 of the top robotics organizations in the world in technical competitions worth a total $3.5 million in prize money. The robots and their teams will gather June 5-6 at the Fairplex fairgrounds in Pomona just east of Los Angeles, where their machines will run a simulated disaster-response course.

While the event is free and open to the public, the agency is hoping to spur interest with dramatic online videos and pre-competition media planning events, which bear passing resemblance to professional boxing's pre-fight hype.

DARPA began the competition to spur commercial industry robot systems and software teams to develop robots capable of helping humans respond to natural and man-made disasters. The agency is hoping commercial companies can develop hardware, software, sensors and interfaces with a short development timeline.

The finals in Pomona require robots to run a gauntlet of consecutive physical tasks, with degraded communications between the robots and their operators. The winning team will receive a $2 million grand prize, while DARPA said it plans to award $1 million to the runner-up and $500,000 to the third-place team.

DOD to show off latest tech at Lab Day

The Defense Department will host the first DOD Lab Day at the Pentagon on May 14 to increase awareness of research projects and tech-centric success stories, Defense Systems reports.

The event will see senior Pentagon leaders, program sponsors and managers, members of Congress and students from various science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)-focused high schools gather to view demonstrations by DOD branch engineers on solutions that provide the military with an edge a release stated.

The event in the Pentagon courtyard (rain date May 15) will feature more than 100 innovations in fields ranging from advanced weapons to disaster relief.

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