First Responder UAS Endurance Challenge

Accept this Challenge to expand current drone capabilities to support search-and-rescue operations and other public safety missions.
Stage 4 Winners Announced
$552,000 in Prizes


If you look around, there are plenty of drone challenges sponsored by industry, academia, non-profits, and government agencies. The First Responder UAS Endurance Challenge, however, will be the one most worthy of your time.

Why? Because the First Responder UAS Endurance Challenge is a competition that is specifically designed to crowd-source as many inventive drone designs as possible for first responders. What does this mean for you? It means the Challenge presents a unique opportunity to use your ingenuity and hardware build expertise to design a drone prototype that will fly for the longest time possible while carrying a 10-pound payload. It means the competition awards up to $552K in prizes that not only include the top three best designs that meet program requirements, but also include a variety of ‘best-in-class’ awards for specific drone capabilities. When you accept our invitation to join this Challenge, you and your team will be directly helping to advance UAS technology focused on supporting the needs of the public safety community and its stakeholders.

In this Challenge, implemented by Capital Consulting Corporation and Arizona State University Research Enterprise (ASURE) under contract with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Public Safety Communication Research (PSCR) Division, you are asked to create and build a powerful drone intended to support critical, life-saving missions. Will you push the innovation envelope and accept our invitation to be the “Last Drone Standing?”

To read all of the challenge rules and specifications, see the extended rules document here.


To support the first responder community and help save lives.

Imagine a scenario where a citizen is lost in the desert. The existing Public Safety Broadband Network (PSBN) only covers 5% of the search area because of the local topography. A team of first responders deployed to the incident area need to rely on your Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) to carry wireless communications equipment that can be deployed quickly and support emergency response teams in the area.


Accept this Challenge to expand current drone capabilities (i.e. vertical takeoff and landing, accuracy, stability, safety), payload management, and flight endurance to support search-and-rescue operations and other public safety missions of similar need.


Set your watches for our April 1, 2020 launch date where you will receive further instructions about your first mission: to develop a promising concept paper. Selected concepts will receive prize funds along with an invitation to participate in the remaining stages to design, develop, and demonstrate the prototype drones.

The final stage will be a Live Test & Evaluation Contest to demonstrate your UAS capability and compete for additional prizes and recognition. Go to for complete Challenge Rules, evaluation criteria, and more details.


There are several actions that you can begin working on right now to develop your winning submission:

  1. Sign Up For Updates.
  2. Formulate Your Winning Team – This is a complex Challenge that will require representatives across multiple disciplines. While there are no formal matchmaking efforts for this Challenge, potential applicants are welcome to use the Challenge community facebook page to solicit and identify potential partners.
  3. Start Your Research – Identify any potential technology gaps your team currently has, then spend this time reviewing resources and connecting with other experts to fulfill your team.
  4. Begin Drafting Your Concept Paper – The rules and evaluation criteria have already been published, so you can begin drafting your proposal now.
  5. Register to attend the April 2 UAS Challenge Information Webinar – The webinar will also have a question-and-answer session.
  6. Check out step-by-step instructions for a successful contest entry.





To read all of the challenge rules and specifications, see the extended rules document here.


Join us for this exciting drone (aka unmanned aircraft system or UAS) prize competition using your ingenuity and hardware build expertise to create a concept for a drone prototype. The result of the First Responder UAS Endurance Challenge (UAS Challenge) will support the public safety community and its stakeholders.

Vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) UASs provide many different mission capabilities, but their flight time is limited. The payload capacity, energy source and flight time are linked through design trade-offs that can be optimized for efficiency and flexibility. This challenge is designed to keep a UAS and its payload airborne for the longest time possible to support first responders on the ground while they conduct their mission. The advancement of UAS research achieved through this challenge will help support the development and operation of UAS that areintended to host critical tools for public safety missions, such as wireless communications systems.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Public Safety Communications Research Division (PSCR) is hosting a 4-stage challenge, with prize awards up to $552,000 for the top designs. There are no fees or qualifications needed to enter the first stage. The most outstanding Stage 1 conceptual designs will be eligible to participate in the remaining stages of the competition (see Official Rules).

You can make a difference! Continue reading to learn about challenge stages and details. To enter for Stage 1, submit your entry by April 30, 2020. For entry as a Walk-on in Stage 3, submit your entry by December 18, 2020. 


Challenge Background

The National Institute of Standards and Technology Public Safety Communications Research Division has established the Innovation Accelerator (IA) to spearhead the research that supports the development and deployment of the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network (NPSBN). PSCR’s Open Innovation team engages public safety entities, government, academia, and industry to identify innovation opportunities and foster technology advancements for public safety communications through Prize Competitions and Challenges. 


Challenge Goals and Objectives

The purpose of this Challenge is to advance UAS technologies by building and flying drones designed to support first responders. One of the barriers for the public safety community is having access to drones that can fly for long periods of time, ninety minutes or greater, while carrying a heavy payload. Emergency responders can accomplish their mission more efficiently and effectively if the drone flight time for a known payload is maximized. Since the payload capacity, energy source, flight characteristics, and flight time are linked together through design trade-offs, PSCR is exploring ways to optimize drones for increased flight endurance while making it more efficient and flexible for use by public safety.

In pursuit of that goal, PSCR is investigating options to enable state and local first responders the ability to deploy drones for law enforcement, firefighting, and other emergency services needing broadband connectivity and services. In a typical search-and-rescue scenario, a team of one or two first responders may be dispatched to a location where broadband LTE communications are unavailable. To maintain communications, first responders might deploy an LTE system using a drone to provide communications to first responders on the ground and extend coverage to an area that is remote from where the drone initially launched. Some key features and capabilities of interest to public safety include:

  • The drone and supporting system equipment can be stored in the cargo space of an SUV or pickup truck.
  • The drone should be light in weight (one-person setup), easy to set up, capable of Vertical Take Off and Landing (VTOL) and not require special tools.
  • The drone may be required to move between different locations in order to maintain communications coverage.
  • The drone needs to continuously fly as long as possible, be easily recovered, stored and readied for the next mission.

PSCR is aware that various organizations have, or are developing, drones with higher payload capacities and long endurance; however, these drones typically cost more than what a local public safety department might be able to afford. Additionally, they may not be practical due to the difficulty of transporting large equipment and/or the need for specialized training to operate it, both of which can be difficult for city/state agencies with limited staff and resources. Therefore, PSCR is hosting this 4-stage challenge to design, develop, and demonstrate drones with extended flight time and other capabilities that support first responders to help advance the research and push the boundaries of UAS technology for public safety. 


Official Rules 

This document outlines the official rules for the First Responder UAS Endurance Challenge. Nothing within this document or in any supporting documents shall be construed as obligating the Department of Commerce, NIST or any other Federal agency or instrumentality to any expenditure of appropriated funds, or any obligation or expenditure of funds in excess of or in advance of available appropriations. 



The following is a summary of each contest. For more information, please review the full terms and conditions for each contest as provided throughout this document. 


Concept Paper Contest The Concept Paper Contest invites all eligible Contestants to complete a concept paper outlining their knowledge, skills, capabilities and approach for this challenge. Contestants’ concept papers will be reviewed by a panel of subject matter experts and judges who will select those Contestants to be invited to the challenge kickoff webinar. Contestants selected by the Judging panel will be eligible to move forward to Stage 2: Design, Prototyping, & Hardware Build Contest. 

  • Up to 20 Contestants will be invited to advance to Stage 2: Design, Prototyping, & Hardware Build Contest. Of the selected Contestants up to 10 Contestants will receive prize awards. The remaining 10 Contestants will be invited to advance and will not receive prize awards


Design, Prototyping, Hardware Build Contest In this contest, the Contestants will purchase or create the hardware necessary to implement the design approach outlined within their concept paper. Contestants will purchase or create (for example: using 3D printing or machining) the hardware or parts necessary to build their prototype drone to the specifications and required safety standards. Contestants will take part in a series of design reviews to demonstrate progress towards achieving the teams’ proposed designs.

  • Milestone 1: Up to 15 Contestants will be selected to receive prize awards following the Preliminary Design Review (PDR); the five other Contestants may be invited to advance to Critical Design Review (CDR).
  • Milestone 2: Up to 15 Contestants will be selected to receive prize awards following the Critical Design Review; the five other Contestants may be invited to advance to Stage 3. (All Contestants invited to advance to Stage 3 are considered “winning Contestants” from Stage 2.)

Stage 3: Video Test & Safety Evaluation Contest 

Once the UAS prototype build is complete, winning Contestants from Stage 2 will be required to complete a series of Video Test & Safety Evaluation flights designed to ensure the UAS completes minimum requirements for safety, hardware configuration, flight time, and payload with their prototype drone. 

Walk-on Teams: Video Test & Safety Evaluation Contest 

In addition to the winning Contestants from Stage 2, Contestants who did not participate in Stage 1 or Stage 2 may enter the Challenge at Stage 3 as “Walk-on Contestants”. As part of Stage 3, Walk-on Contestant entries will be evaluated for eligibility and performance with an opportunity to advance to Stage 4. 

  • Up to 15 Contestants (which may include any Stage 3 Contestants or Walk-on Contestants) will advance to Stage 4: Live Test & Evaluation Contest and receive invitational travel prize awards.

STAGE 4: Live Test & Evaluation Contest 

The Live Test & Evaluation Contest is the final stage of the challenge. All Contestants will complete a series of static tests and live test flights to demonstrate their prototype drones’ capabilities. Contestants completing at least the minimum standards will be ranked and, based on those rankings, may receive prize awards. In addition, invitational travel prize awards for each team of Contestants or Contestant who placed first, second, or third place will be awarded to attend and present their UAS solution at the PSCR Annual Stakeholders Meeting in June 2021.

Drone Design Specification

Drones entered will be subject to the requirements and limitations defined in the Drone Design Specification (outlined in the table below). Drones must not be a completely unaltered commercial, off-the-shelf UAS as the intent of the challenge is to design a UAS that is customized for the specific flight time and payload requirements of the challenge. The following table describes the design requirements for the UAS Challenge. The “Requirement Title” is the nomenclature used to refer to the Requirement. The “Requirement Definition” describes the meaning of the specific requirement. The “Challenge Requirement” represents mandatory capabilities of the drone and minimum acceptable values for the specific requirement. The “Challenge Objective” provides guidance where higher standards are expected. Each Challenge Requirement or Challenge Objective applies to all Stages of the UAS Challenge unless any deviation is noted in Table B - Drone Design Specification. 


A Contestant (whether an individual, team, or legal entity) must have registered to participate and complied with all of the requirements under section 3719 of title 15, United States Code as contained herein. At the time of entry, the Official Representative (individual or team lead, in the case of a group project) must be age 18 or older and a U.S. citizen or permanent resident of the United States or its territories. In the case of a private entity, the business shall be incorporated in and maintain a place of business in the United States or its territories.

Contestants may not be a Federal entity or Federal employee acting within the scope of their employment. Former NIST PSCR Federal employee or Associates are not eligible to compete in a prize challenge within one year from their exit date. NIST Associates are eligible to enter but may not utilize NIST funding for competing in this challenge, nor are they eligible to receive a cash prize award. Individuals currently receiving PSCR funding through a grant or cooperative agreement are eligible to compete but may not utilize the previous NIST funding for competing in this challenge. Previous and current PSCR prize challenge contestants are eligible to compete. Non-NIST Federal employees acting in their personal capacities should consult with their respective agency ethics officials to determine whether their participation in this competition is permissible. A Participant shall not be deemed ineligible because the Participant consulted with Federal employees or used Federal facilities in preparing its entry to the Challenge if the Federal employees and facilities are made available to all Participants on an equitable basis. 

Contestants, including individuals and private entities, must not have been convicted of a felony criminal violation under any Federal law within the preceding 24 months and must not have any unpaid Federal tax liability that has been assessed, for which all judicial and administrative remedies have been exhausted or have lapsed, and that is not being paid in a timely manner pursuant to an agreement with the authority responsible for collecting the tax liability. Contestants must not be suspended, debarred, or otherwise excluded from doing business with the Federal Government. 

Multiple individuals and/or legal entities may collaborate as a group to submit a single entry and a single individual from the group must be designated as an Official Representative for each entry. That designated individual will be responsible for meeting all entry and evaluation requirements. 


Challenge submissions can be from an individual, a team or a group of teams who submit a solution to the Challenge. If a team of individuals, a corporation, or an organization is selected as a prize winner, NIST will award a single dollar amount to the Official Representative. The Official Representative is solely responsible for allocating any prize amount among its member Contestants as they deem appropriate. NIST will not arbitrate, intervene, advise on, or resolve any matters between entrant members. It will be up to the winning team(s) to reallocate the prize money among its member Contestants, if they deem it appropriate. 

To read all of the challenge rules and specifications, see the extended rules document here.