Early last year a team of Swiss technologists was awarded US$1 million in prize money for a crash-proof drone designed to maneuver through confined spaces. With drones that detect landmines, replant forests and service slums to contend with, the Gimball rose above its competing entries to take out first prize in the United Arab Emirates' Drones for Good competition. Now the drone's real-world durability and potential as a life-saving search and rescue aid have been put to the test in deep the crevasses of the Swiss Alps.
Even when taking every precaution, mountaineering is a dangerous activity that throws up all kind of nasty surprises, not least of which are gaping crevasses that are sometimes obscured by snow on the surface. When climbers find themselves trapped in the depths of these icy caves, jagged faces and narrow spaces means retrieving them is no simple task.
Protected by a free-spinning cage, the Gimball drone is designed to bounce off obstacles that it encounters in its flight path, rather than falling to the ground with busted rotors in tow. For the mountain rescue team working the Zermatt Glacier in the Swiss Alps looking for any possible assistance in its search efforts, these capabilities fit the bill just nicely.
The rescue team recently joined Flyability, the makers of the Gimball drone, to explore some of the glacier's frozen chasms. Equipped with a lighting system and a full HD video camera, which relayed vision back to the control team in real time, the drone was flown tens of meters below the surface to capture a viewpoint not often seen by humans.
These treacherous environments provide an ideal (and pretty spectacular) proof of concept for the Gimball drone. Flyability imagined that it would first find value in search and rescue operations, such as scanning disaster zones like nuclear sites or battlefields for survivors. And after plunging deep into the Zermatt Glacier and returning to the surface in one piece, it might just be up to the task.
You can get the drone's perspective on all this in the video below.