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Drone Research


One barrier for use of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) in public safety is payload versus flight time. UAS vertical takeoff and landing provide many different mission capabilities—but their flight time is limited. NIST PSCR launched a competition designed to help public safety operations by keeping a UAS and its payload airborne for the longest time possible with vertical and hovering accuracy. To ensure proposed solutions could be realistically implemented, there was a cap of $20K per UAS in the competition.


PSCR launched a three-stage prize challenge competition in January 2018. In addition to cash prizes, top participants were given $20K to build a UAS prototype and invited to compete in a field test for a 1st place prize of $50K. To simulate a drone carrying an LTE network device, each UAS was required to lift a 10, 15, and 20 lb payload and hover-in-place for the longest time possible; competitors were evaluated on safety, positioning & accuracy, and payload.


The winning platform was tailored to carry an on-board LTE module which may provide first responders access to vital communication in remote areas. The winning team, DV8, reported:

  • Weight specifications = < 33lbs UAV with ability to carry up to 20 lb payload plus fuel
  • Expected flight time carrying 10lb weight = ~18 minutes
  • Expected height and distance limit = ability to climb to 100+ feet and a distance of 200+ feet


This challenge showed first responders that there may someday be an affordable drone in their toolkit to carry wireless networks for search and rescue operations. Additionally, this challenge stimulated ongoing research efforts both in the form of “in-house” research at NIST as well as additional prize challenge competitions.



NIST Drone Challenge
NIST Drone Challenge

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Created February 23, 2021, Updated March 1, 2021