Team Guardian takes flight: SFU students prepare for international UAV competition

February 21, 2017

Imagine being tasked with locating a lost hiker in a remote area. He’s called for help and it’s your job to find him and deliver emergency supplies. What will you do?

That’s one of the scenarios a group of SFU students will face when they compete at the Student Unmanned Aerial Systems (SUAS) competition in June. The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) organizes the international competition, and this year 59 teams will be participating.

Team Guardian is Simon Fraser University's student-led group dedicated to building unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to solve urgent, everyday issues. Since its inception in 2010, it has been a place for students to turn their theoretical classroom knowledge into real-world solutions. While based out of the Faculty of Applied Sciences, the group is open to students from all faculties and is especially attractive to software systems and mechatronic systems engineering students.

Before competing at SUAS in June, the team will be heading to Quebec in April for the Unmanned Systems Canada (USC) competition.

“In Quebec, we’re monitoring a wild goose population,” says team captain Kris Gjernes. “We’ll need to race the clock while surveying the area, identifying nests and performing the delicate task of retrieving an egg for scientific analysis.”

In previous years, Team Guardian won first place at the 2016 Drone Fair, and second place at the 2012 and 2016 USC competitions. With two competitions coming up this spring, the team is hard at work preparing and upgrading their technology. These upgrades include:

  • Adding a hexacopter to their fleet to retrieve and deliver objects with greater accuracy
  • Upgrading the onboard camera and data processing algorithms to allow higher altitude flights with improved image quality
  • Building a larger fixed-wing airframe to help improve payload capacity and flight time
  • Implementing machine learning to assist in target recognition

Team Guardian has provided invaluable opportunities for its students. Junior students are recruited every year and receive mentorship from senior members to allow them to immediately contribute to the team. Graduates often use their experience to secure co-op work placements or “dream jobs” at companies such as Tesla Motors and Amazon.

To help fund the costs of materials, competition fees and travel, the team relies heavily on individual donors and corporate sponsors. Currently, in preparation for the 2017 competitions, Team Guardian is running a crowd-funding campaign to help reach their goal of raising $6,500. To donate to the team, please visit their crowd-funding page.