NIST launches First Responder UAS Triple Challenge

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) of the has launched a new prize competition, the First Responder UAS Triple Challenge, to promote the use of drones, also known as unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), in first responder missions.

NIST launches First Responder UAS Triple Challenge

This reward competition, dubbed the First Responder UAS Triple Challenge, consists of three challenges with three different focal areas – all of which are geared at expanding UAS technology to serve important, lifesaving operations. The National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Public Safety Communications Research (PSCR) branch will accept contest entries starting on August 2, 2021, with numerous stages extending through June 20, 2022.

“Our goal at PSCR is to accelerate the development and adoption of advanced wireless communications for the public safety community,” said Dereck Orr, the division chief in a statement. “These prize competitions are a way for us to find solvers from around the world to help us with this important research.”

Search and rescue operations including optical sensors and data analysis to improve picture detection and location are the focus of the FastFind: UAS Search Optimized Challenge. The Shields Up! Securing UAS Navigation and Control Challenge asks participants to identify and demonstrate cybersecurity threats and countermeasures that prevent the UAS from navigating and controlling itself, while the LifeLink: UAS Data Relay Challenge focuses on supporting continuous delivery of broadband data in a degraded cellular area.

Prize money totaling more than $700,000 will be distributed throughout the three events. Each level of the competition will be judged by a panel of judges, who will be aided by a team of subject matter experts, who will choose the prize recipients.

National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) Public Safety Communications Division is hosting the First Responder UAS Triple Challenge, which is being handled by State University in conjunction with State University.

“This project has been a long time in the making for our team at K-State,” said Kurt Barnhart, who is leading the K-State contract team. “We are privileged to be able to partner with the challenge team at NIST in their ongoing effort to push innovative technologies forward for to use as they work tirelessly to help us when we need it the most. We’re also excited to be working jointly with the excellent team at Mississippi State University’s Raspet Flight Research Laboratory to develop and deliver three competitions.”

Tom Brooks, director of Mississippi State University’s Raspet Flight Research Laboratory, emphasized the relevance of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to first responders in his speech on Tuesday.

“Unmanned aircraft systems are increasingly revolutionizing various aspects of society, including how emergency responders do their jobs,” he said. “Mississippi State welcomes the opportunity to bring our UAS experience to support this competition that is sure to advance technologies available to public safety professionals.”

The theme of the Challenge was carefully selected to describe each of the three unique challenge goals.

  • The first challenge (FastFind) will focus on increasing the speed of search and rescue operations where direct visual contact with a potential subject may be obscured.
  • The second challenge (LifeLink) will center on the resilience of network connectivity in remote areas where access to network connectivity may be denied.
  • The third challenge (Shields Up!) relates to enhancing the security of both command and control as well as navigational communications between the drone and its ground station.

In the First Responder UAS Triple Challenge, participants will have the unique opportunity to put their ingenuity and hardware-building skills to use in order to satisfy the demands of public safety. Visit to learn more about qualifying conditions, and visit for more information about the challenge and to register.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) supports innovation and industrial competitiveness in the United States by improving measurement science, standards, and technology in ways that increase economic security and improve our quality of life. NIST’s website can be found at

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Haye Kesteloo

Haye Kesteloo is the Editor in Chief and Founder of, where he covers all drone-related news, DJI rumors and writes drone reviews, and, for all news related to electric vehicles. He is also a co-host of the PiXL Drone Show on YouTube and other podcast platforms. Haye can be reached at haye @ or @hayekesteloo.

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