31 March 2021

AAUS is proud once again to recognise individuals and organisations that have made a significant contribution to the Australian unmanned systems industry.

For the 2021 awards, over 100 nominations were received for the 5 award categories highlighting the strength of our rapidly developing industry.  The finalists made impressive reading and judging panel had a very difficult job in determining the winners.

This years awards were presented at the AAUS Gala Dinner held at Hotel Realm Canberra on the evening of March 10, 2021

We congratulate the AAUS Industry Champions 2021.


The Leadership Award recognises individuals or organisations that lead the way with advocacy work that strives to improve the commercial and / or technological viability of the unmanned system industry.

Winner: Dr Terry Martin (Revolution Aerospace)

Dr Terry Martin (Revolution Aero) was awarded the Leadership award for many years of dedicated advocacy work particularly representing industry in the development of RPAS policy, regulation, risk analysis and UTM.  Highlights include:

  • JARUS (2017-present) including being a member of JARUS Working Group 6 (SORA) and Working Group 4 (DAA), original Member of the sub-working groups within WG-6 examining both UTM and cyber requirements; current lead for JARUS Quantitative Methods Group, examining Air and Ground Risk requirements in the SORA
  • CASA (2015-Dec 2017): First a member (2015), then Industry Co-Chair (June 2015 – Dec 2017) of the CASA UAS Standards Subcommittee initiating several working groups spanning airworthiness, airspace integration and operations, training and Risk Management.
  • RTCA SC-228 Detect and Avoid Working Group
  • NATO (2018-Dec 2019): Australian Representative for NATO AVT 278 Working Panel identifying issues
    and challenges for Harmonisation of UAS Regulations for Common NATO Operating approvals.
  • Swiss U-Space Implementation: Invited SME to SuSI
  • Australian Government NEAT Working groups
  • Engineers Australia: 30 Most Innovative Engineers 2018-2019 • Invited Researcher 2015
  • NASA Ames looking at UTM • Invited Researcher DLR Germany (2017), examining UAV Detect And Avoid


The Innovation Award recognises organisations  that have designed a new product, a new service, a new production or manufacturing process contributing to the advancement of the unmanned systems industry.

Winner: Emesent

Emesent were the recipients of the Innovation Award 2021 for the development of Hovermap, a versatile autonomy and LiDAR mapping solution enabling the capture of mining data in hazardous and inaccessible areas.  When mounted to a drone, Hovermap provides advanced collision avoidance and autonomous flight technologies to accurately map GPS-denied environments such as underground mines.
In July 2020, Emesent released additional autonomy functionality to Hovermap, enabling to autonomously fly a drone beyond line-of-sight and communication range and venture further into inaccessible areas.
Underground mines contain large inaccessible areas, which are critical to the efficient and safe operation of the mine. These unsupported voids are a source of ground falls that can endanger personnel, underground infrastructure and equipment, over-break, or self-mining. Mining engineers and surveyors are required to regularly inspect these areas or investigate excessive dilution.
The existing solution for inaccessible areas is a cavity monitoring system (CMS). Deployed from a boom, this system is time-consuming, produces poor quality, incomplete scans, and potentially endangers personnel who have to operate the scanner.
Hovermap overcomes all of these issues. Using Hovermap keeps personnel safe because they can fly and map an area, such as a stope, while standing well back from the brow. The high level of autonomy allows it to be operated easily and safely by personnel with little drone experience. The amount of time taken to map a stope is reduced from hours (with a CMS), to minutes with Hovermap. This significant time saving allows stopes and drives to resume production quickly. In an African underground, long-hole, gold mine, Hovermap was used to capture a large stope in two 6-minute, beyond-line-of-sight flights with over 96% coverage. The whole process including post-processing and coordinate registration only took 30 mins. Previously, this had been mapped with a CMS and it would take them over 3 hours to survey this exact same stope. Hovermap also improves data quality by capturing ‘shadowless’ point clouds, that is, the data has a consistent spatial resolution without hidden areas. Mining engineers use this data to identify geological features or conduct volumetric analyses, which is not possible with low-density CMS data. In addition to stopes, Emesent customers are using Hovermap to map, drawpoints, ore passes, shafts, vents, old workings and falls-of-ground.
Using the power of Hovermap’s autonomy technology and standard online collaboration tools, Emesent recently conducted the World’s first trans-continental remotely-operated autonomous drone flight in an underground mine. Hovermap enabled the autonomous drone flight from take-off to landing in an underground Canadian mine, operated all the way from Brisbane, Australia.


The Education & Safety Award recognises individuals or organisations who demonstrate leadership in educating the unmanned systems industry with particular emphasis of developing a safety-focussed culture.

Winner: Fiona Lake (Rural Drone Academy) 

Fiona Lake (Rural Drone Academy) was the 2021 award winner for her dedicated work in educating rural residents on the safe and practical use of drones in the performance of agricultural applications.

Fiona Lake created he Rural Drone Academy created in 2017 when she recognised that there was a dire need for accurate and comprehensive drone education, specifically tailored for rural residents. Not just official rules but an explanation of all that could go wrong and how to manage these risks. Threats to manned aircraft from BVLOS bore runs has remained the most pressing risk. Rural landowners have been granted a special exemption re licencing – a catastrophic accident could see this rescinded.

For maximum effectiveness rural/remote presenters must have firsthand experience with the specific challenges; as well as knowing the practical needs of agricultural businesses and tasks that drones are wanted for. Fiona’s career in ag across Australia meant she had accidentally prepared over several

She also recognised that few inland Australians have the time, money or will to travel to capital city training. So to make a real impact the training must travel to them.  Fiona created the Rural Drone Academy and it remains the only interstate-visiting rural/remote drone education service available in Australia.


The Humanitarian Achievement Award recognises individuals or organisations that demonstrate the role unmanned technologies can play in bettering our world.

Winner: Swoop Aero

Swoop Aero won this years award for its continued work in Malawi using drones for the quick, safe and reliable transportation of essential medical supplies in impressive quantities leading to 150% increase in operational efficiency of the health supply chain.  CEO and Co-Founder Eric Peck (pictured) accepted the award.

In November 2019, Swoop Aero started operations on the USAID Global Health Supply Chain project in the Nkhata Bay district of Malawi.

In the first month of 2020, Swoop Aero expanded operations in Malawi by partnering with UKAid and UNICEF to service the Southern districts of Chikwawa and Nsanje with essential health supplies, including basic childhood vaccines, cholera vaccines, HIV blood samples and Covid-19 PPE. The Nsanje and Chikwawa
districts in Southern Malawi, with a total population of 800,000 people across 38 district health centres, have struggled to maintain consistent and reliable medical deliveries due to a lack of road infrastructure and the yearly flooding season. The commencement of these operations represented an important leap forward in regional disaster management, which remained a core challenge of the area. For example, in March 2019, devastating floods displaced 83 000 people in these Southern districts, with thousands more cut off from mainland supplies and emergency assistance for a number of weeks due to the lack of ground infrastructure and emergency aerial resources.

The Swoop Aero operations had two objectives; strengthen the healthcare supply chain and, collect high quality aerial data that could be used to develop elevation maps, flood models, emergency preparedness plans and resilience plans for the flood prone areas. With a network established, the program has strengthened the health supply chain and immediately improved access to healthcare during the flood season for the 500,000 residents of southern Malawi.

Swoop Aero is currently servicing 38 health centres across the two regions via the establishment of two drone hubs. Due to the ease with which the network can be scaled up effectively, Swoop Aero is continuing to expand this service range to ensure more communities receive access to basic health supplies.

The demonstrated achievements of Swoop Aero exhibited within the Malawian health supply chain are evidenced through the increased volume and quantity of essential health supplies, in comparison to the existing method of transportation.

Since February 2020, Swoop Aero has:

  • Delivered 50,000 doses of HIV antiretroviral (ARV) medication
    Delivered more than 12,800 doses of vaccines, including PCV, Rotavirus, Polio, TDV, BCG, MMR, MV, and over 1,500 Covid-19 facemasks
  • Transported 677 laboratory samples and results, including Covid-19 samples, TBSputum, HIV/AIDS, malaria, and PCS test results
  • Flown over 58,300kms as well as conducted more than 1,906 flights, of which 36 flights have been emergency flights for rapid deployment of
    essential health supplies
  • Trained more than 70 district healthcare professionals to send and receive
    medical cargo via drone
  • Employed and trained six full-time local team members, including an African Drone and Data Academy (ADDA) graduate, to operate and manage the network


The NextGen Achievement Award recognises young individuals (under 35 yo) that demonstrate elite capability and leadership in their field within the unmanned systems sector.

Winner: Mitchell Bannink

Mitch Bannink (University of Adelaide / Airspeeder / OVRL / Australian Border Force / Qantas) for his ongoing advocacy work towards the advancement of RPAS policy, regulation and safety on behalf of industry.

Mitch has been advancing the capabilities of the RPAS in Australia by simultaneously performing the roles of Chief Remote Pilot for three organisations with 130 pilots with contrasting roles in the industry. 

Mitch has been tireless in obtaining knowledge and applying RPAS in a challenging year for Australia  He has led numerous initiatives in fire management in NSW through FCNSW, including managing over 250 RPA fire operations, targeting spotting and remote assessment, contributing to saving hundreds of thousands of hectares of land and numerous houses in the 2020 bushfires. He developed thermal animal tracking capabilities currently used by Wildlife Drones and Western Sydney University, to assist in fauna recovery programs during bushfire relief, which have now been adapted into ongoing conservation programs with koalas and endangered bird life. He has developed specific procedures for law enforcement agencies to conduct complex operations to help protect the public, in overt and covert operations. Meanwhile, on the regulatory front, he contributes to working groups with CASA and other government bodies to enable industry to advance in areas such as EVLOS and BVLOS.

The breadth of Mitch’s experience and contribution gives him unparalleled insight into the industry
as a whole, with understanding on how lessons learned in one sector can be applied to another, and where gaps in capability and regulations are systemic. Importantly, he does it all with a view to make the RPAS industry a safer, more prosperous and exciting one.