Visible to the public 2020 CPS ChallengeConflict Detection Enabled

2020 NSF Student CPS Challenge

Visible to the public 


2020 CPS Challenge


May 13-15 2020

TIMPA airfield, 3250 N Reservation Rd, Marana, AZ 85653





Drylands form a significant portion of earth's surface, yet the surface processes affecting, and impacted by soil, are poorly understood due to undersampling. For the 2020 NSF Challenge, student teams will deploy and recover soil probes to measure properties that are of interest to ecologists.

SoilScope site


The goal of this challenge is to use a multirotor aircraft with downward facing camera, and possibly other sensors, to search for an ideal experiment site for deployment of a soil probe, and recovery of the probe back to base after a pre-specified dwell time.

Teams will be provided with simulation tools on the CPS-VO, as well as support with hardware decisions.

Why participate?  

  • Develop autonomy for UAV team, in a fun setting.

  • Engage in agile design iterations, both for software and hardware.

  • Experiment with complex mission scenarios using powerful cloud-based simulation tools.

  • Repurpose solution to other problems, such as searching for a strategic location to deploy and recover a sensor probe.

Ideal teams: The challenge is designed for undergraduate teams participating in a one semester course. Teams should have a mentor who is a graduate student, or a faculty member that can provide direction and suggest technical approaches. All solutions will involve both software and hardware.

Software: Teams should plan to use the Robot Operating System (ROS). Development can be done exclusively with Python, though C++ could be used as well. More information is available at the project GitHub repository.

Hardware: Any vehicle that supports the ROS compatible PX4 autopilot stack is suitable for the challenge. The vehicle should have on-board companion computer, and cameras that support ROS integration in order to facilitate algorithm implementation. Project organizers have listed a few compatible off the shelf and custom vehicles below. 


The sampling goal for the competition is to use a probe to measure soil moisture, and soil grain size distribution. The hardware for this is being developed by ASU, and details will be shared with teams interested in assembling their own. We are experimenting with the following soil moisture sensors,

The probe design will also house a small greyscale (single channel, broad spectrum) camera pointing down at a 7 cm diameter patch of soil, illuminated with ring of LEDs around the camera. 

The sensing assembly will fit into the bottom part of the probe, with the top section used for docking system. The probe will house 2-4 cellphone grade LiPo batteries to power the soil moisture sensor, camera, and compute (e.g., arduino, Google Coral TPU). 

How to detect patch?

Our patch of interest will have more moisture than neighboring area, so texture will be darker, and the temperature will be cooler. We encourage teams to experiment with affordable thermal imaging cameras, usable with embedded systems such as .


20  Detection of patch
10  Deployment of probe
20  Recovery
20  Release
30  Science goals met

Manual control not allowed 


An example manuscript for probe deployment and recovery from NSF CPS Challenge 2016 is available at IEEE Xplore, L. Vacek, E. Atter, P. Rizo, B. Nam, R. Kortvelesy, D. Kaufman, J. Das, V. Kumar, ”sUAS for deployment and recovery of an environmental sensor probe,” 2017 International Conference on Unmanned Aircraft Systems (ICUAS), Miami, FL, USA, 2017, pp. 1022-1029


Packing list:

We will provide water and electrolytes, lunch, snacks, power cords, power strips, chairs, work tables, soldering iron stations, and miscellaneous tools.

We ask you to keep the following two in mind when packing.

  • Drone specific tools and spares -- because things will break, and disassembly and reassembly might be needed on the field.
  • Desert attire -- hats, shades, boots, and sunscreen. It will be sunny and hot (~85F peak) outside the shade structure. Airy clothes and hiking socks and boots are recommended in the Sonoran Desert.

Legal requirements: 

  1. Team vehicle should have an FAA registration number.  Go to and register under section 336.
  2. The pilot in charge for each team will need to be a member of the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) . The pilot will need to show their membership card at the event.

Interested in participating?

Potential teams are encouraged to join the project (See the "Join Us" balloon in the top-right corner of the header graphic above) . 

Technical committee:

Dr. Heather Throop, Arizona State University.   


If you have questions, please contact Jnaneshwar Das 



See Previous CPS Challenges: