Lockheed Martin drones are on display during the 2019 SXSW Trade Show on March 12, 2019. Photo: Suzanne Cordeiro/AFP/Getty Images

In an attempt to drive interest and research into autonomous vehicles, the Drone Racing League and Lockheed Martin have partnered up to create the AlphaPilot competition.

How it works: 430 teams, each armed with an autonomous drone, are currently participating in qualifying rounds. Nine make the Artificial Intelligence Robotic Racing Circuit finals, where the winners will go home with $1 million. If a team's A.I. drone can also beat a human pilot head-to-head, they get an extra $250,000.

Why it matters: Autonomous drones are part of our future. And for them to be useful in places like disaster areas, they need to be able to fly fast, far and without human oversight.

  • Right now, that's a huge challenge, as they lack the ability to detect real-world environments and can be thrown off by something as simple as a shadow, which limits their top speed.
  • The hope is that the AlphaPilot competition leads to increased awareness about the future of not just autonomous drones, but all autonomous vehicles. And maybe even a technological breakthrough.

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