11:43 AM

Drone Racing Challenge: First Pro Human Champion vs AI Pilot

RTB House is a proud sponsor of the RTB-Warsaw MIMotaurs one of nine teams competing in a unique Artificial Intelligence (AI) competition — autonomous racing drones. And for the team whose AI beats an elite human pilot — there’s fame and fortune.

Guest post by Gary Burtka, VP of U.S. operations for RTB House

Drones promise to revolutionize commerce through the rapid delivery of goods to our doorsteps and lobbies. But the thought of these self-driving robots whizzing around above our heads and homes is a scary one for some people. It evokes images of futuristic movies like “The Fifth Element” and its skyway with vertical lanes full of speeding flying cars, and imagining the fear-inducing chaos if even just one vehicle flies off-course and crashes into others. And what of the people down below?

Safety is why Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Tesla and others have been pouring money into development of advanced machine learning systems for delivery by drones. Another way to push forward the development of AI drone technology is through competition.

World’s first man vs. machine drone racing challenge 

The Drone Racing League (DRL) is trying to build NASCAR-like excitement around the sport of drone racing. Large audiences gather to see elite human pilots racing at high speeds via custom made drones through a variety of courses -- and the audience is in the racing seat.

Last year the DRL announced a new type of drone racing competition: the Artificial Intelligence Racing Circuit (AIRR) — with no human pilots. Teams create virtual pilots — AI systems that race along the same courses used in regular competitions. Will the machines learn to become faster pilots than humans?

Aerospace giant Lockheed Martin has put up millions of dollars in sponsorship and prize money as part of its AlphaPilot Innovation Challenge. Like other prize competitions such as the DARPA Grand Challenge, the AlphaPilot Innovation Challenge has the potential to develop safer and more efficient drone deliveries.

The AIRR competition attracted 430 teams of drone enthusiasts and developers from 81 countries. Now there are just nine teams remaining and this fall their drones will race through a series of complex 3D courses for $2 million in prizes. 

There’s a special $250,000 prize for the team that can beat a human pilot. 

University of Warsaw team is a top contender

One of the frontrunners in remaining AIRR teams is the Poland-based RTB-Warsaw MIMotaurs, from the University of Warsaw, well known for its AI education prowess.

AI has been booming in Poland and Warsaw is home to nearly one-half of the country’s AI startups and R&D divisions for global corporations. The University of Warsaw sits in the center of Poland’s main hub for AI innovation and attracts some of the best minds in the world. 

Karol Pieniący, captain of the RTB-Warsaw MIMotaurs, is determined to be the first AIRR team to beat a human pilot. Speaking at a recent event at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he admitted that it’s a difficult task.

“The DRL human pilots are real pros at what they do, and we think of them as a geekier version of football stars in the drone racing sport that’s quickly moving towards the mainstream,” said Karol Pieniący. 

“Beating them will be extremely difficult, but we’re not giving up. There is a very good chance that our advanced AI will be able to compete with humans and eventually beat them in a head-to-head race.” 

Pieniący noted that they’re getting strong support from AI specialists at the University of Warsaw, in addition to mentors from Lockheed Martin who work with advanced control systems in the space industry. So, when the team asks its mentors for hints on how to solve a problem, they’re getting top-notch thinking for designing solutions that are “literally out of this world.”

So far so good

During preparations for the AIRR competitions, the RTB-Warsaw MIMotaurs were the only team that were able to start their drone engine, a standard configured quad-copter, fly up and make simple maneuvers. It was a magical moment for them plus it gave them an edge on the competition because now they had valuable data on flight-control responses.

Pieniący did not disclose any of the “secret sauce” that’s propelled them to the top of the AIRR finalists, which he says will stay closely guarded. He added that the world will soon find out which team has the most advanced AI.

This machine versus human competition will be a fast action-packed race. It’ll be more watchable than Google DeepMind playing and beating the world’s top player of Go. 

There’s millions of dollars and reputations at stake. And the team that beats a human pilot will not only make history but also get a lot of attention from the world’s largest tech companies.

Ultimately, these types of AI systems will be central to reinventing how we live, work and enjoy our leisure time.


You can follow developments and the evolving timeline and locations for the AlphaPilot Innovation Challenge here. To learn more about the RTB-Warsaw MIMotaurs and follow their progress, visit their Facebook page. 

- - -

Gary Burtka is VP of U.S. operations for RTB House, that provides state-of-the-art marketing technologies for top brands worldwide. He is also a champion jet skier. RTB House’s AI platform is powered by deep learning algorithms to make ad campaigns more personalized and efficient.