The GoAero Prize has a simple-sounding, but incredibly complex goal: Design and build a safe, portable, robust, autonomy-enabled Emergency Response Flyer.
The Prize’s vision defines the heroes who look past danger, who step in to be, “The difference between triumph… and tragedy, and especially, those who “Use Their Minds to Create technology that Saves Lives.” There’s $2 million waiting for those who come up with the best solutions. And the competition promises even greater glory, “This is your chance to make history… and save lives.”
GoAero says, “The world needs this,” explaining that, “In the U.S. alone, nearly 4.5 million people live in “ambulance deserts,” in a medical crisis, people in these areas have to wait as long as 25 minutes or more for an emergency medical crew to arrive.”
We’ve seen recent examples of how serious such waits can be. Paradise, California was a thriving community of over 26,000 before the disastrous Camp Creek fire in 2018.
The fire trapped residents on a few two-lane roads leading into the area and what looks like a dirt road. Post-fire, the population dwindled. Wikipedia reports, “In January 2019, the state of California reported 4,600 residents, and a door-to-door count in April 2019 found 2,034.”
Two southern Oregon towns, Talent and the ironically named Phoenix, were destroyed in a 2020 wild fire. Climate change wreaks havoc everywhere, and disasters seem to be lurking.
America is not alone in such needs. Rwanda’s roads, weather, and mountainous terrain, for example, make access to remote villages difficult if not impossible. Zipline pioneered autonomous flight vehicles to deliver medical supplies to remote villages in mountainous terrain. This relatively small approach can be scaled up to accomodate a pilot and gear.
According to the GoAero Prize announcement, 2022 counted, “More than 380 natural disasters worldwide – affecting 185 million people and resulting in the loss of over 30,000 lives.” Wildfires consumed 14.4 billion acres from 2011 to 2018, and nearly 5.5 million were injured or lost their homes because of flooding.
A prize competition may help find answers.
The GoAero Prize
Gwen Lighter, former CEO of the GoFly Prize and now CEO of the GoAero Prize, introduced the competition at this year’s Vertical Flight Society’s Transformative Vertical Flight Meeting (#TVF2024), in front of 500+ attendees, GoAERO CEO Gwen Lighter and NASA Associate Administrator for Aeronautics Bob Pearce announced the launch of the GoAERO Prize.
“To bring hope in the face of worsening climate change and increasing fire and flood risks, “GoAERO is offering $2+ Million in prizes for the best thinkers, creators and inventors to build an Emergency Response Flyer.
“By unleashing the power of autonomy, speed, and precision, GoAERO is looking for the brightest, boldest and bravest to change the way we rescue and respond to disaster.”
The prize’s Mission Summary Table lists the five criteria on which entrants will be judged.
Productivity includes being able to quickly deploy the system, then continuously ferry payload to the emergency site. Rescuers should be able to drive on to the deployment site, ready the machine for flight and make as many trips as necessary to supply necessary payloads.
The machine should be able to take off and land in difficult conditions, including operating from sandy, sloped, wet/rainy, and windy sites.
The machine should be able to tightly maneuver while avoiding obstacles. It will demonstrate this by running a slalom course featuring four obstacles and a performing a spot landing, with and without payload in each direction.
The machine should be able to demonstrate the ability to perform “fine tasks” beyond merely following a designated flight path. These will include tossing a weight for lateral delivery, push-button precision hover. Popping balloons in a watery environment, and the ability to tough ground reference points.
The machine should be able to make “on-the-fly decision making and execute efficient flight paths. It should be able to, Assess a hitherto unknown environment, then plan and fly the best route through it.”
The GoAero Prize notes that many existing craft can already carry out many of these missions, but looks forward to spurring new developments, “That showcase to users, industry, government, and the public the art of the possible with today’s technology (affordability, portability, storability, ease of use, versatility, etc.), which may one day lead to fieldable solutions.”
What’s Available Now – or Soon?
eHang has flown perhaps thousands of people autonomously in China, including their entire board of directors. Beyond delivering medical practitioners and supplies, their machines can even deliver fire-fighting foam on target.
We’ve reported here on Jump Aero’s potential sale to the State of Oregon, which we’ve seen suffer wildfire damage that wiped out entire towns.
And as can be seen in the video, such life-saving technologies seem to stir up the venture capital universe.
Beyond military rescue missions, one can see the Lift Hexa employed by rurul fire departments for similar operations. The ability to haul untrained personnel to disaster sites is a plus here.
The Competition Rules
As one might guess, the rules are extensive and complex. One can imagine teams parsing these rules as though they were looking for loopholes in the constitution or the commandments.
April 8, 2o24 marks the last day to comment on the rulebook itself, with October 9 seeing submission of Stage 1 documents, and June 18, 2025 for validation of the technical aspects of the submission. Turning from documents to actual flyable hardware, entrants will submit their machines between August 5 and December 15, 2026 for verification of safe flying characteristics. The up-to-three-day flyoff event will begin February 5, 2027. Rules are intricate, and contest rules urge early application and compliance with each stage. After all, the designs will probably progress in an iterative fashion, and teams’ final goals will probably become moving target.
Since the kickoff of the modern electrick aircraft movement with the Green Flight Challenge in 2011, several challenges have helped bring about great advancements.
This competition could be among the most important in aviation history. We are faced with daunting threats to our way of life and perhaps our very existence. The GoAero Prize could provide hope in darkening times.