On Friday at AUT University’s Motion Capture Laboratory, Callaghan Innovation presented the finalists in the inaugural C-PRIZE. Callaghan Innovation national aviation sector manager Chris Thomson was there, novelty oversize cheques in hand.
Then there were six…
From about 4000 website views, Callaghan Innovation received 300 registrations of interest for the first ever C-PRIZE (www.cprize.nz). Those 300 registrations yielded an astonishing 80 entries, which a judging panel of UAV and screen sector experts whittled down to the last six.
To give you an idea of the scale of interest in the $50,000 UAV challenge, launched by Callaghan Innovation in April, Scandinavian company Sqore, which is providing logistical support for the challenge, interest outstripped a similar completion run in Stockholm to design a solar energy installation.
The standard of the entries was very good, and there was not a lot to separate the top dozen or so from which the final six were selected.
In the end – without any conscious effort to do so – the judges selected a reasonably diverse group of finalists.
Horizon is a group University of Auckland students, who will compete against some of their own tutors, in the form of team Ruru UAV.
Alumni of University of Auckland also made the cut, through VorTech UAV, while Manukau Institute of Technology is represented through ex-students comprising Dotterel NRS.
Karl and Cathy Butler, of Butler Robotics, fly the flag for private enterprise with the Butler Robotics UFO, while in true Kiwi spirit there has to be at least one backyard enthusiast – in this case, Russell Donovan, whose entry is The Kestrel Project.
While Friday night was all about handshakes and celebratory photos, for the six teams the real work has only just begun.
Once they cash their giant cheques, teams have until mid-November – about 15 weeks – to get their projects in the air, and most importantly doing what they aim to – be that withstanding Wellington-force gales, humming silently enough to film dialogue, or automatically tracking an erratically-moving object.
Each team will get support along the way through workshops and advice, but in the end it will be their own hard work and ingenuity which will see the winning team claim the prize.
Now that the finalists have been found, it’s worth reflecting on the purpose of the C-PRIZE. Callaghan Innovation decided to launch the prize to incentivise breakthroughs in specific technologies where New Zealand already has a niche or natural advantage.
It’s also aimed at inspiring other innovators to throw caution to the wind and give their idea a crack.
To some extent, the C-PRIZE is already working – we don’t yet know if the designs will fully work, but we do know a lot of brainwork has gone into solving the problems posed by the three challenge streams.
We also know that regardless of the winner, international UAV company’s eyes are on the finalists, and their designs – even the team members themselves – could well end up putting their ideas to work in Wellywood, or Hollywood.
The C-PRIZE has also tapped into the dreams of aspiring innovators.
Here’s Ben McLaren, a young engineer from team VorTech UAV:
“The C-Prize was a great way to get involved in a really exciting engineering challenge, with the potential for it to actually lead to a commercially realistic business opportunity. Callaghan Innovation’s involvement really reduced the barriers to entry in an industry with huge potential. I’m really looking forward to seeing all six of the designs in the flesh!”
Let the challenge begin!