Lockheed Martin offers $250K prize for first AI drone to beat human pilot

More than $2 million in total prizes will be awarded to top teams in the AlphaPilot challenge.

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The AlphaPilot challenge asks participants to design AI technology that allows autonomous drones to beat human-piloted drones in a race. 

Drone Racing League

Drone racing could soon get a boost from AI. 

Lockheed Martin, the Drone Racing League and NVIDIA launched a challenge Wednesday called AlphaPilot, which asks participants to create artificial intelligence technology that allows autonomous drones to out-race human-piloted drones. 

"Put that computing power at the edge, and do it in such a way that it can beat those human pilots who trained months or years to get to that level," Lockheed Martin Chief Technology Officer Keoki Jackson said at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco on Wednesday. 

The challenge opens later this year and the races will be held during the Drone Racing League's new Artificial Intelligence Robotic Racing Circuit starting next year. The grand prize winner will get $1 million. The first team to beat a drone piloted by a human in a race will win $250,000. More than $2 million in total prizes will be awarded to top participants, Lockheed Martin said on a website page announcing the competition.

Teams will use the NVIDIA Jetson platform to develop frameworks that allow autonomous drones to navigate complex courses without pre-programming. 

"It's important for us to keep innovating, to keep pushing forward in developing smarter, faster, safer AI," Lockheed Martin said in a release. "Our customers are often looking decades into the future to determine their needs, so we must do that too -- thinking about next-generation products, as well as generation-after-next products."

Drones are increasingly expanding into everyday life. They're used by companies like Amazon for delivering groceries and are deployed by farmers to monitor crops and livestock. Drone racing has also gained traction with events like the US National Drone Racing Championships, as well as those from the Drone Racing League.