Design Challenge: Build a better UAV, save rhinos

Avatar MichaelAubry November 8, 2013

3 min read



It’s been a bad year for rhinos. 

100 rhinos were killed in South Africa just in the last five weeks and we’re on track to lose over 1000 to poachers.  As there are just only around 5000 black rhinos left in South Africa this is a big deal. If this trend continues we will see the total demise of this species as well as most other wild rhinoceros over the span of this next decade.

Rhino south africa death statistics.png
 Source:  Data published by South African Department of Environmental Affairs (2013)


Rhino poaching is especially cruel and horrifyingly graphic. The act typically involves heavy tranquilizer guns and a chainsaw to remove the horn all while the rhino is still alive. The animal is then left to bleed out.

One member of the Fusion 360 community is doing something about it.

For those of you who don’t know Stan Hisel, he’s one of our Fusion community’s best. Stan and I had the pleasure of meeting last summer when he came out to our elite user beta conference here in Portland. We’ve kept in touch since and he’s a blast to work with.  He has tinkered with Bill Gates and Paul Allen on mainframes, owned a retail store for Commodore computers, and rocked out with Mick Fleetwood (because Mick was in town and liked the acoustics of Stan’s space). Professionally he’s done biomedical devices, precast concrete, and all sorts of crazy robotics projects. Recently he was one of our guests on our Fusion Hangout around his work in glassware – because, you know, why not?

Today Stan works professionally on UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles). He can’t talk about the actual projects he is working on, but he’s always very generous with his time in advocating how this technology is useful for benevolent purposes.

But let’s talk Rhinos.

Stan, and many others like him, sees UAV technology as critical in protecting dwindling Rhino populations. Last summer he worked on UAVs to track the migration patterns of geese in Colorado. He says the same concepts could be used to track and capture poachers.

Poachers move fast as a lot use helicopters. Presently, wildlife preserve security teams can’t keep up. UAVs can change that.  A few wide range UAVs with aerial optical and heat sensing equipment would allow security teams to move and precisely to where they are needed.

The technology exists. The only challenge standing in the way is that good UAVs costs millions of dollars.  The average wage in South Africa is around $1/day. The money just isn’t there.

Introducing the Fusion 360 “Build a Better UAV Challenge!”

Build a Better UAV Challenge

ADX and the local PDX drone group to host a two weekend challenge event (December 7/8 & 14/15) to see what a group of motivated and passionate flying enthusiasts in the Portland area can do to optimize the low-cost kit Stan has assembled.

We’re going to focus on anything mechanical that can make the UAV design lighter, cheaper, easier to fabricate, more reliable, stronger, and/ or stiffer. We’re going to be using Fusion 360 to facilitate the design and collaboration. Everything we do is going to be open source. Anyone in Portland or on the internet can participate.


You should join us! The challenge itself is in Portland but the project is open source online. The event itself has no cost to participate. Your team is just responsible for the cost of your materials (think in the ballpark of $150-$300. It depends on what you use). 
Want to help? Sign up here:


Just email me at if you’d just like to be added to the group project within Fusion 360 or have questions.


More To Come! In the upcoming weeks we’ll be updating you about what’s happening. We’re expecting great things. We hope you decide to join us!

Very Best,
Mike Aubry
Technical Marketing Manager, Fusion 360





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