AlphaPilot — Lockheed Martin AI Drone Racing Innovation Challenge

Team MAVLAB of The Netherlands, is $1 million richer after their autonomous drone won the 2019 Artificial Intelligence Robotic Racing (AIRR) Circuit race. The team is part of a drone research lab from Delft University of Technology where they developed algorithms to drive their  autonomous drone through the track at a top finishing-time of 12 seconds – 25% faster than the second-place drone.

“AI played a major part in our solution and we are thrilled to see it turned out to be very reliable during many of DRL’s AIRR races. The team worked super hard on this and we are very grateful we were rewarded with this beautiful prize from Lockheed Martin. I would like to congratulate the other AlphaPilot Team finalists for making it this far, and I can’t wait to see how autonomous drone technology innovation will continue to evolve over the next few years,” said Christophe De Wagter, Team MAVLAB Lead.

AIRR, the autonomous drone racing series, accelerates AI innovation through futuristic sports competition. The challenge, sponsored by Lockheed Martin, competed nine international AlphaPilot Teams of students, engineers and programmers from five continents competed in AIRR by developing AI that could autonomously pilot standard, custom-built DRL RacerAI drones the fastest.

“The AlphaPilot open innovation challenge is about going fast, taking risks and pushing the boundaries of AI and autonomous flight,” said Lockheed Martin Chief Technology Officer Keoki Jackson. “We are excited to recognize Team MAVLAB and award them with the $1 million prize, but the most energizing part of this competition is seeing how Lockheed Martin’s partnership with DRL inspired great emerging global AI talent to help our world leverage AI and autonomous technologies.”   

As a bonus lap to push the limits of performance between human and machine, Team MAVLAB participated in an AI vs. human-piloted drone race. Both flying the DRL RacerAI drone, Team MAVLAB’s AI raced against DRL Pilot Gabriel “Gab707” Kocher, one of the best drone pilots in the world, who competes in the 2019 DRL Allianz World Championship Season. While DRL Pilot Gab707 won the race, finishing in six seconds, five seconds faster than Team MAVLAB, showcasing the ever-closing gap in performance between AI and humans.

Through this series, Lockheed Martin was able to foster a growing community of artificial intelligence experts by providing a high-visibility opportunity to shine and compete, while simultaneously catalyzing innovative approaches toward autonomous systems command and control.

This program was financed through tax returns and demonstrates our commitment toward STEM and giving back to the community. 

For fans interested in watching the futuristic final of AI-powered drones racing against each other, DRL will air highlights from the AIRR Championship on Sunday, Dec. 29 at 4 p.m. ET on NBC and via @DroneRaceLeague on Twitter.   

Challenge Partners

2019 AlphaPilot / Artificial Intelligence Robotic Racing Winners

1st Place - MAVLab


MAVLab brought some of the deepest drone experience to the AlphaPilot Challenge. They’ve been innovating in the field of aerial autonomy for years, and they were confident their depth of experience and versatility would propel them to a win the 2019 AIRR Circuit.

2nd Place - UZH Robotics and Perception Group

UZH Robotics & Perception Group is already a dominant force in autonomous drone racing. Having just won the 2018 iROS Autonomous Drone Race in Madrid, their talent and experience cannot be ignored.

3rd Place - TEAM USRG @ KAIST


TEAM USRG @ KAIST knows the taste of victory. After winning the first-ever iROS autonomous drone in 2016, they came in first at the Seoul Airshow’s AirBus Competition in 2017. They came ready to race at the 2019 AIRR Circuit and took home the title of third place.

Lockheed Martin Autonomy

Technology is transforming how humans and machines work together. People are relying on machines to help them make better informed decisions, expand reach and access, and increase safety and productivity. This new era of human-machine collaboration depends on trust and understanding—allowing each component of the team to do what it does best.

See how Lockheed Martin experts are changing how humans and machines work together:

How one small VTOL UAS supporting some of the United States’ most critical missions

How autonomy expands force protection for the military:

2019 AlphaPilot Teams

These nine teams will compete to design an AI framework capable of piloting racing drones through high-speed aerial courses without any GPS, data relay or human intervention. AlphaPilot teams will battle it out during Artificial Intelligence Robotic Racing (AIRR) Circuit's inaugural, four-event season later this year for a chance at winning a $1 million cash prize, sponsored by Lockheed Martin. An additional $250,000 reward will be given to the first team whose autonomous drone pushes the limits of performance between man and machine, and bests a human-piloted drone.

The AlphaPilot Challenge launched in November 2019 on the HeroX platform, attracting 424 teams from 81 countries. Teams competed in a series of qualification tests this spring. A panel of industry experts evaluated their technical strategy and abilities in developing image-classification algorithms and performing in simulated racing environments.


ICARUS from Atlanta, Georgia, USA; affiliated with Georgia Tech’s School of Aerospace Engineering

Formula Drone

Formula Drone from Los Angeles, California, USA; affiliated with the University of California, Los Angeles

KEF Robotics

KEF Robotics from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA

Team Puffin

Team Puffin with four team members from the USA, Sweden and Australia

Warsaw MIMotaurs

Warsaw MIMotaurs from Warsaw, Poland


XQuad from Minas Gerais, Brazil; affiliated with the Federal University of Minas Gerais

The Challenge

Lockheed Martin and DRL are challenging teams to develop an AI-enabled framework, powered by the NVIDIA Jetson platform for AI at the edge, that can navigate a fully autonomous drone through complex, multi-dimensional racing courses – without any pre-programming or human intervention. 

Teams will develop AI that has an accurate representation of a drone operator’s goals and desires, so it can make inferences about current and future needs, limiting the need for explicit direction. 

This is a competition of AI quality – all other racing variables, including the drone hardware, are controlled.

AlphaPilot will award more than $1,000,000 in prizes for its top performers!

  • The grand prize winner will take home $1 million.
  • The first AlphaPilot team to beat a human-piloted drone in head-to-head competition will take home an extra $250,000.

Lockheed Martin and DRL are targeting U.S. undergraduate and graduate students to apply for AlphaPilot; however, the competition is open to drone enthusiasts, coders and technologists ages 18+ from around the world. If you believe autonomy will shape our future, now’s your chance to help create that future. This is a great opportunity for some of the world’s most creative minds to go head-to-head and show what their technologies can do.

Work with professional mentors and industry-leading technical partners. Lockheed Martin engineers and AI specialists will serve as mentors to Challenge teams. DRL will supply Challenge teams with standardized drones, and their drone experts will collaborate with teams and Lockheed Martin technical mentors throughout the multi-year partnership. Contestants will also have access to products from NVIDIA, the leader in AI computing.


  • The Contest is open to applicants who are at least 18 years of age. 
  • Teams may enter independently or as representatives of a university or business entity.
  • Teams may also pursue sponsors to assist with computing infrastructure and travel costs.

All terms and conditions >

The AlphaPilot Innovation Challenge offers a chance for teams to master autonomous flight and win more than $1,000,000 in cash prizes!

2019 AlphaPilot / AIRR Photos

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