The RAF are joining Europe’s leading autonomous drone technology event this weekend, helping families build an autonomous airship.

Attendees at the Micro Aero Autonomous Extremes Europe (MAAXX Europe) at the University of the West Of England at Filton can also build a remote-controlled plane, have a go in a simulator, and watch the latest autonomous drones race around two indoor tracks.

Budding coders can also take part in a hackathon to programme a drone, while engineers will do the same to get their machines to fly unaided and race each other.

Hosted at the UWE exhibition centre on Friday 23rd and Saturday 24th March, this is Europe’s only indoor autonomous drone race. Throughout the two days, teams from universities and companies around the world will battle it out with their flying robots navigating around a 30m track.

Friday is a paying event and is open to industry members, who can attend seminars by sector leaders and network with peers through High Tech Bristol and Bath (HBB).  Saturday is free and dedicated to families. UWE Bristol, Aerospace Bristol and the RAF will be on-hand to host several activities for all ages.

The RAF’s involvement with the event is part of its commitment to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths) activities for local schools, colleges and the public to commemorate the service’s 100 years.

Members of the public can also take part in the event’s ‘Dronejam’ hackathon, designed for people interested in software development who are unable to take part in the main contest. The event’s organisers provide a ‘house robot,’ give participants an introductory masterclass on how to programme it, and set them the challenge of configuring the drone to perform certain manoeuvres autonomously.

The industry-focussed race helps experts learn more about drone technology. “It helps us to learn how to get the UAVs to fly together without colliding, and how we give them enough intelligence to navigate autonomously, ” said Dr Steve Wright, a Senior Lecturer in Avionics and Aircraft Systems at UWE Bristol who is organising the event along with High Tech Bristol and Bath.

“One of the biggest challenges is getting a drone to fly through a cluttered environment, like a city, without bumping into objects. There is no one answer to these problems and the event produces a whole set of solutions,” he said.

Eight teams have signed up to the competition, including three from UWE Bristol, with several from other countries. Winning teams will win high-end smartphones, each worth £500, for the drone that flies the fastest, the most impressive trick performed, and the machine that completes the greatest amount of laps.

“Although the speed prize is perhaps more appealing, in many ways endurance is more important to the evolution of the technology because there is the question of how you make it work day after day,” said Wright.

“There are so many improvements to be made in this area and during the event, we are not just shaving fractions of a second off, we are trying to make things ten times or a hundred times more amazing.”

Members of the public can attend MAAXX on Saturday 24 March for free, signing up here. Video from last year’s event is here, and you can find out more about the activities of High Tech Bristol and Bath at




Nick Flaherty