CITRIS Aviation Prize 2021

The CITRIS Aviation Prize challenges student teams to design, develop and demonstrate a long-distance, fully autonomous flight with a small UAV. This competition is open to all students at the four CITRIS campuses at UC Berkeley, Davis, Merced and Santa Cruz.

The recipients of the first CITRIS Aviation Prize were announced in January 2022. The winning team will demonstrate their proposal in spring 2022. Learn more about the team’s plans in a recent CITRIS Research Exchange seminar.

CITRIS invites faculty, staff and the other Aviation Prize competitors to help make their flight a success. To get involved, email


The CITRIS Aviation Prize, created in collaboration with the Institute for Transportation Studies at UC Berkeley, challenges student teams to design, develop and demonstrate an autonomous flight of at least 115 miles within a circuit of at least 5 miles in circumference with a small UAV, in full compliance with FAA Part 107 rules. This competition is open to all students at the four CITRIS campuses at UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Merced and UC Santa Cruz.

The Competition

There will be two phases in the competition:

  1. In the design phase, we invite proposals that will describe in detail the implementation, including the aircraft, additional hardware and software, concept of operations, project budget (up to $25,000), and the proposed route of the demonstration flight. The best proposal will be recognized with the first CITRIS Aviation Prize, including a $2,000 cash award to the winning team.
  2. In the demonstration phase, the winning team, with support from Aviation-focused faculty, students and staff from all four CITRIS campuses, will demonstrate the actual flight in spring 2022, on a budget not to exceed $25,000. (Academic credit may be arranged for participation in the final project.)

Teams may want to consult the UC Drone Map as a planning resource.

How To Register

Team registration closed Oct. 31, 2021. If you have any questions, please email

How To Win

To win, the prize teams must create a proposal for a fully autonomous flight with a vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) small unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). The flight should be at least 115-mile long, must be flown within a circuit of at least 5 miles in circumference, it should include an environmental survey, and it should be completed with a 45-minute reserve energy. The entire operation should be in compliance with FAA Part 107 rules, and must be completed on a project budget of $25,000 or less. The winning flight will be a public event and will be promoted through CITRIS communications channels.

Proposals should address these challenge goals:

  1. Perform the entire flight autonomously, including takeoff, routing, targeted environmental survey, and landing.
  2. Provide for autonomous obstacle avoidance and emergency landing capability, with automatic selection of a safe emergency landing spot.
  3. Maintain visual line of sight (VLOS) throughout the mission, incorporating at least three control points, at least one of which should be mobile, and provide a safe procedure for switching control points mid-flight.
  4. Incorporate 4/5G connectivity in addition to direct telemetry between the control points and the aircraft.
  5. Show that the entire flight will be compliant for Operations Over People under FAA rules. Provide a safety management plan, including a risk matrix and risk mitigations.
  6. Approximately mid-way through the flight, perform an environmental survey of a 200-acre plot (see detail below).

Proposals should not exceed 10 pages, including map(s) of the proposed flight and budget, and should be submitted in pdf format. They will be evaluated on how well they address the criteria above, the feasibility of the budget, and on the complexity of the route and survey proposed. Teams representing multiple CITRIS campuses are also encouraged.

Members of non-selected teams will have an opportunity to apply to participate in the demonstration and implementation of the winning proposal in the spring.

Background Information

UAV Selection/Design
While you should be free to propose your own UAV design for this competition, you should also consider commercially available aircraft and components that could fit your budget and requirements.

Route Selection and Visual Line of Sight
While the goal is to perform a fully autonomous flight, in order to maintain compliance with 14 CFR 107, the drone must remain within visual line of sight of a Remote Pilot in Command (RPIC) throughout the entirety of the flight.  However, there is no restriction on the number of RPICs that can be used during a flight operation. In addition, RPICs are not required to remain at a static location – a RPIC may operate from a moving vehicle in a sparsely populated area (14 CFR 107.25). In your proposal you should propose a specific route along a circuit of at least 5 miles in circumference, keeping in mind that the total flight must be at least 115 miles, and include an environmental survey (see below). You should indicate where RPICs could be set up along with an assumed safe visual line of sight range of 2/3rds of a mile. Given that you need to provide for at least one mobile control point, do note that a RPIC could be a passenger in a boat or an off-road vehicle. The complexity, special features and challenges of the proposed route will be taken into account during the evaluation of your proposal.

4/5G Connectivity
The future of unmanned aircraft includes a completely connected traffic management system. This project will build toward it by incorporating 4/5G connectivity into the VTOL platform. The connectivity must provide a live video feed and telemetry information, as well as command/control functionality. Consider the role of cybersecurity to ensure a secure connection throughout the flight operation.

Operations Over People
Future flight operations will require authorizations to fly over people. New regulations (14 CFR 107 Subpart D) introduced the necessary requirements to fly over people for four different categories. Only Category 2 will allow for a Small Unmanned Aircraft System (SUAS) to operate over any number of people without an airworthiness certificate.   

Category 2 compliance requires that the UAS:
— Will not cause injury to a human being that is equivalent to or greater than the severity of injury caused by a transfer of 11 foot-pounds of kinetic energy upon impact from a rigid object;
—Does not contain any exposed rotating parts that would lacerate human skin upon impact with a human being; and
—Does not contain any safety defects.

A solution may incorporate a parachute recovery system or other means of reducing energy on impact. Measures to stop or shroud spinning propellers should also be considered.

Autonomous Emergency Landing System
To ensure fully autonomous operation, you should also consider the possibility of an emergency landing. To this end, your UAV should be able to autonomously detect a safe landing location with computer vision in the event of an emergency, and land at the best reachable emergency landing location. To ensure functionality during the demonstration flight, you should develop a safety system testing methodology.

Perform an Environmental Survey
Select a target area of approximately 200 acres, and approximately mid-way through your flight perform a photographic survey capturing photographs or other sensor data in your chosen target area. This is meant to demonstrate that your platform will be able to carry a useful sensor payload and that it will be capable of autonomously performing tasks beyond navigation. Feel free to specify the kind of survey you want to perform and to possibly include sensors other than a camera. The complexity, challenges and usefulness of your proposed survey will also play a role in the evaluation of your proposal.

Prize Timeline

Team Registration Open
Aug. 19, 2021, to Oct. 31, 2021

Proposal Submissions Due
Nov. 19, 2021

Proposal Winner Announced
Dec. 17, 2021

Winning Flight Plan Executed by End of Academic Year
Spring 2022

Faculty and Staff Advisors

Brandon Stark, Merced
Brandon Stark
UC Merced
Maggi Kelly, Berkeley
Maggi Kelly
UC Berkeley
Michael Matkin, Santa Cruz
Michael Matkin
UC Santa Cruz
Raja Sengupta, Berkeley
Raja Sengupta
UC Berkeley
Josh Viers, Merced
Joshua Viers
UC Merced
Bayen, Berkeley
Alexandre Bayen
UC Berkeley
Mark Hansen, Berkeley
Mark Hansen
UC Berkeley
Nate Metzler, Davis
Nate Metzler
UC Davis
Claire Tomlin, Berkeley
Claire Tomlin
UC Berkeley
YangQuan Chen, Merced
YangQuan Chen
UC Merced
Erin Hestir, Merced
Erin Hestir
UC Merced
Mark Mueller, Berkeley
Mark Mueller
UC Berkeley
Susan Ustin, Davis
Susan Ustin
UC Davis