The world’s first autonomous drone racing competition takes places on Saturday and Sunday at the UWE Exhibition Centre in Bristol.

MAAXX Europe brings together researchers, companies and enthusiasts to test out the latest technogologies for self-flying aircraft. The event, the first of its kind, is organised by the University of the West of England (UWE) and High Tech Bristol and bath, with backing from Bristol aerospace consultancy Stirling Dynamics. IT will be opened with a keynote from Prof Iain Grey, professor of aerospace engineering at Cranfield University and former chief executive of the UK’s research agency, InnovateUK.

“It’s indoor drone flying with a twist – automatic piloting,” said organiser Dr Steve Wright, a Senior Lecturer in Avionics and Aircraft Systems at UWE Bristol. “This is a move away from piloting and is more about software, programming skills, sensors and deployment.”

“There will be no human intervention while they are on the course”


Competitors will see their autonomous drones fly around a 25m oval-shaped racing circuit while avoiding rival racers.

There will be prizes for the fastest drone; the drone with the greatest endurance; and the most impressive technology or trick – as voted by other competitors.

Testing systems and sensors, not pilots

“The course is dead simple – it’s a long oval along the lines of Ben-Hur meets Scalextric,” said Dr Wright. “The drones will be going around the course as fast as they can, as many times as they can but there will be no human intervention while they are on the course.

“Competitors will line up their drones in the air in the pits, press go, and then watch them go. This is not about human piloting skills; it is about building machines and systems that can operate without human intervention. First person view racing is very interesting but I’m more excited by avionics, software, systems and sensors than airframes.”

The rules are simple with flexibility in order to attract as many competitors as possible. You can see more in the video below:

“Automatic piloting might sound tricky to some so we wanted there to be minimal barriers to entry,” he said. “We are being flexible over the rules because we want to make sure competitors have a great time and there is lots of amazing technology on show. Drones and electronics are super-cheap, and the software is usually free. The course is simple enough that you can build a test circuit at home and develop your entry.”

Interested? You can sign up to come along at the HBB website

Nick Flaherty