Tech by VICE

Watch This Search and Rescue Drone Navigate a Glacier Crevasse

A bit of a rough ride, but that was the point.

by Michael Byrne
Jan 20 2016, 2:24pm

Image: Flyability

Look, I'll be honest: I went into this expecting an epic video of a badass drone tearing around the gorgeous, glistening blue guts of a glacier. It was not quite to be, but the crevasse-exploring drone is still an important application of the whole drone concept, particularly when it comes to search and rescue operations.

Crevasses are one of a mountaineer's—and the people often drawn in to rescue them—biggest threats. Glaciers are full of these deep, dark chasms and they're frequently invisible on the surface due to snowcover. Actually getting into a crevasse to explore is itself a dangerous and difficult task involving special skills and equipment. Properly searching a crevasse network for a missing climber is mostly impossible and amounts to searching a deadly maze.

So, the utility of drones in glacier search and rescue operations is a given, though exploring crevasses seems to be relatively uncharted territory.

The video is of a recent collaboration between a mountain rescue team operating on Zermatt Glacier and Flyability, a drone start-up with origins at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne. The bumping around is actually part of the mission's success, as the spherical cage is designed to allow for rather imprecise non-pilot flying skills, as you'd expect on an SAR team.

A Flyability press release explains: "With its spherical, freely rotating protective cage, the drone remains perfectly stable after contacts, making it completely collision-tolerant and safe to fly close to humans. It was thus capable to easily access this extreme environment while being remotely operated by an untrained pilot. The embedded full HD camera, digital live video transmission and the powerful lighting system allowed the drone to operate in the heart of the mountain glacier, tens of meters below the surface."

As a climber, falling into a crevasse while alone on some mountain is still a worst-nightmare level occurrence, but maybe it will soon be a bit less so.

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