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NIST competition seeks UAS 3D map researchers to compete in grand prize challenge

NIST is launching its fifth prize competition to continue advancing UAS technology for first responder search and rescue operations, with a total prize purse of up to $987,500. 

The First Responder UAS Three-Dimensional (3D) Mapping Challenge, or UAS 5.0, will ask competitors to develop an affordable UAS solution which will provide public safety with accurate positioning and high-quality 3D digital mapping in real-time. The 3D mapping capability will support first responders in indoor missions where a natural disaster has created a constrained environment due to a partially collapsed structure with smoke and limited light. The competition will accept entries beginning April 18, 2023, with multiple stages running through September 2024. 

“This challenge will develop uncrewed aircraft prototypes with unique capabilities that may soon help first responders improve the time spent locating a victim or remove obstacles that may cause harm to themselves,” said Terese Manley, the UAS portfolio lead for NIST’s Public Safety Communications Research Division (PSCR). “The winning solutions of this challenge are designed to provide an incident commander with additional tools to make informed decisions. A UAS with enhanced visual images and video can be used to capture 3D maps from inside a building or collapsed infrastructure where it’s not safe to enter. This improved situational awareness can impact the public safety mission and limit loss of life.”

The First Responder UAS 3D Mapping Challenge offers competitors up to $987,500 in prizes throughout the four stages, which include a head-to-head flight competition and an accelerator stage where teams can expand on their research or market readiness. A panel of judges and subject matter experts, with expertise in UAS, public safety missions, and academia, will determine prize recipients through each stage of the competition. 
NIST PSCR is hosting the First Responder UAS 3D Mapping Challenge in collaboration with Kansas State University’s Aerospace and Technology Campus. 

Kurt Carraway, executive director of Kansas State University’s Applied Aviation Research Center, is eager to see the innovation that will come from this challenge to assist first responders in emergencies.

“Emerging technology, including drones, can help first responders be more efficient in supporting emergencies,” said Carraway. “The Applied Aviation Research Center’s consultation with first responders identified specific challenges with respect to indoor rescue scenarios where drone advancements can help inform a response plan, mitigating risk to victims and our public safety agencies. Whether the scenario is a tactical response by law enforcement or a partially collapsed structure, effective 3D mapping in indoor scenarios will significantly enhance emergency crews’ response.”

The First Responder UAS 3D Mapping Challenge encourages all drone enthusiasts to bring their ideas to this competition. To learn about eligibility requirements, visit, and to learn more about the challenge and register, visit

Released April 18, 2023