Develop new drone algorithms and artificial intelligence in a joint UK-US hackathon

During the hackathon all files will be shared via dropbox

The speed and ferocity of the recent devastating wildfires in California and in the UK demonstrate the need to develop new ways of using science and technology to assist the emergency services. Small unmanned air systems or ‘drones’ - in the right hands - could offer a way of reducing the burden on the emergency services by mapping and tracking a wildfire in real time, autonomously, enabling other efforts to be focused rapidly where they are needed to save lives.

Registration closes at 23:30 on the 27th of March – secure your place and get your free ticket at Eventbrite now

Dstl (Defence Science & Technology Laboratory), in partnership with the AFRL (US Air Force Research Laboratory), are hosting the 'Swarm and Search AI 2019 Fire Hack'.  Simultaneous competitions in the UK and US will explore new and more efficient ways to plan and execute complex drone searches and missions.

Supported by experts from industry, academia, MOD and the Fire & Rescue Service the participants will tackle a series of increasingly challenging scenarios to facilitate the development of their techniques within a simulated synthetic environment developed specially for this event by AFRL.

We’re particularly interested in the algorithms and artificial intelligence necessary to control the behaviour of the swarm. The challenge will grow in complexity over the weekend and we are looking for participants who are interested in:

  • Developing robust and resilient autonomy for these swarms
  • Collaborative behaviour between individual drones
  • Not just responding to the fire but predicting it
  • Considering the users’ priorities and real-world complexities of operating drones around wildfires, where mistakes could cost lives

There won’t be any live flying of drones as part of the main event. Instead, we will be making use of a bespoke version of a drone simulation environment from AFRL, which is being made available especially for this event to enable the development of your ideas, algorithms and behaviours against a range of challenges.



Through this hackathon we can offer a range of exclusive benefits as a result of our joint UK/US collaboration, including:

  • Exciting first-of-a-kind transatlantic hackathon, with access to experts and mentors on both sides of the Atlantic via our live video link to the Wright Brother Institute in Ohio (US hackathon details)
  • Exclusive US Air Force simulation environment for swarming drones, AMASE
  • Advice on how to take forward your skills and ideas, whatever the stage of your career or business, including recruitment advice and Government funding opportunities
  • Hosted by Solent University at their 'Spark' Centre, an incredible new venue with food and drinks provided throughout the weekend
  • Demonstrations and briefings on both the serious and the fun side of drone capabilities, and their important role in supporting our fire service


Incentives & Prizes

  • The team(s) with the most innovative solutions from the UK Hack will be offered a money-can't-buy opportunity to present their winning ideas and proposal for further exploitation at a special event at the British Embassy in Washington DC. Costs for travel and accommodation will be provided where appropriate.
  • The winning teams from both the US and UK hackathons will also be recognised at the AUVSI XPONENTIAL 2019 unmanned and autonomous systems trade show in Chicago, US, running 29th April to 2nd May.
  • We can help you to form a team prior to the start of the hackathon, forming new relationships that you might retain long beyond the hackathon.
  • 2019 Fire Hack branded t-shirts for every participant.
  • Other prizes to be confirmed.



  • Friday 29th Mar 2019 – Hackathon begins in The Spark in Southampton at 17:30, running through to 23:00
  • Saturday 30th Mar 2019 – The Spark reopens at 08:30, running through to 23:00
  • Sunday 31st Mar 2019 – The Spark reopens at 08:30, with the final challenge due to end around 12:30, and all judging, prize awards and closing messages finished in order for you to get away by around 15:30


Banner image is from PIXNIO

View full rules


  • Participants must attend the hackathon in Southampton from 29th-31st March 2019.
  • Individuals must be aged 18 or over.
  • The competition is in teams – sign up as a team, or individually and ask us to help link you up with others prior to the start of the hackathon. Teams can have up to eight members, but we recommend around four.
  • The drone simulation software we’re using, AMASE, is written in Java. Whilst we’re not specifically focused on the coding and software development aspects, you will need someone in your team with a working knowledge of Java (or experience of another object-oriented programming language) – we can help you form a team with the right mix of skills.
  • You will need to bring along your own computer suitable for running the AMASE software, but this is not demanding software, with Java being the only prerequisite to run AMASE. Following registration Challenge Zero will be available to give you the opportunity to install, test and familiarise yourself with all components required to successfully participate in the hackathon.  We strongly encourage all participants to complete Challenge Zero in good time before 29th March, to ensure we can support you if you encounter problems.


To complete a submission of the challenge, you will need to submit a .zip with the team name as your folder name and send it to

The folder will need to contain:

  • Any .class, .bat and .java source files you develop for your client; we will use these to verify your solution. Please also include any new functions you develop in your .zip file.
  • A save of your data output to be included in your .zip file clearly labelled as ‘data output’. This will be run against our rubric to provide a mark for your solution.

How to enter

Register for the Hackathon at Eventbrite

  1. There are limited tickets for this event so please make sure you register for the event at Eventbrite here

Get to grips with AMASE and complete Challenge Zero (STRONGLY recommended to get ahead of the competition)

  1. Download and electronically sign the license agreement for AMASE (link)
  2. Email the completed agreement to
  3. Within one to three working days you will receive an invite to join the hackathon APAN page

Stay up-to-date with hackathon and make a team (optional)

  1. Register on Devpost
  2. Join the challenge slack channel
  3. Use the participants tab on Devpost or the slack channel to find team mates
  4. Read submission requirements and watch the help videos that are located here


Lieutenant Commander Peter Whitehead

Lieutenant Commander Peter Whitehead
Commanding Officer, 700X Naval Air Squadron

Tim Murrell

Tim Murrell
Group Manager, Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service

Dr Stephen Prior

Dr Stephen Prior
Reader in Unmanned Air Vehicles, University of Southampton

More Judges to be Announced!

More Judges to be Announced!

Judging Criteria

  • Robust Autonomy
    How well do your autonomous solutions cope with the unexpected?
  • Collaborative Swarms
    Does the swarm make best use of individual drones' capabilities?
  • Predicting the Environment
    Are you able to intelligently and accurately predict the fire, to better support our firefighters?
  • Addressing Real World User Priorities
    How well do you take account of, and can articulate, the real-world usability of your solution?