I should have known that there are already quite a few aerial robotics competition in the US. They're all for university students and above, which I suspect is a function of the cost and potential for danger in the sport. But that's only going to improve as the tech gets lighter and cheaper, allowing for smaller, less dangerous planes. All the more reason to start our own in the Bay Area.
Here are some resources I dug up
- The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International runs several contests, including one on a military base in Patuxent, MD for students.
- There's a good Wikipedia entry on Aerial Robotics Competitions. Several universities, including Georgia Tech, maintain their own resource pages (thanks, Kevin). This page has a lot of good resources at the bottom.
- These papers from student teams have some excellent descriptions of the hardware they used.
- The Micropilot MP2028G seems to be the most popular autopilot with the universities. It has a built in GPS unit (I've emailed them to ask about pricing.) But some have complained about unreliable performance and the bulky transmitter it requires for the communications return path, and have switched to the Procerus Kestrel, which costs $5,000.
- Finally, you can buy the complete Procerus UAV kit shown above (plane, autopilot, radio, GPS and more) for $10,500 here. There are some very cool videos of it in action here. I especially like the "virtual hover" technology demonstration, which uses image processing to keep the video image stationary while the UAV circles a stopped target.