Caged drone explores the depths of Greenland ice caves
Quadcopter drones certainly can come in handy, but those exposed propellers make them unsuitable for work in close quarters. Flyability's Elios drone doesn't have that problem, so it was recently used to explore deep ice caves in Greenland.
Following in the footsteps of its predecessor the Gimball, the Elios is essentially a quadcopter that sits inside of a gimbal-mounted spherical protective frame. As it flies around, that carbon fiber frame takes the brunt of collisions with objects such as walls or trees, sparing the drone itself from damage.
Previously, the aircraft has been used to explore glacial crevasses in the Swiss Alps and caves in Sicily. More recently, though, it was utilized to reach the bottom of some of the deepest ice caves in Greenland.
Although just announced this month, the expedition actually took place over a period of two weeks in 2018. Led by Prof. Francesco Sauro from Italy's University of Bologna, an international team of geologists, glaciologists, speleologists, geographers and biologists travelled to area approximately 80 km (50 miles) east of the town of Kangerlussuaq, on the Greenland ice sheet.
On a previous expedition to that region, scientists had wanted to study the rivers that lay below the ice. These rivers were accessible via vertical ice shafts known as moulins. However, the researchers were only able to rappel 130 meters down (427 ft). The moulins can be as deep as 300 m (984 ft), but the ice structure is dangerously unpredictable at such depths.
For the 2018 expedition – which was sponsored by outdoor apparel company Moncler – Sauro and his team rappelled part way down some of the moulins, but then remotely piloted an Elios drone the rest of the way. Utilizing its HD camera and LED spotlights, the drone relayed real-time video of a previously undiscovered lake at the bottom of one of the moulins.
"The core focus of our work is on creating indoor inspection solutions to replace the need for people to enter dangerous, confined spaces," says Flyability CTO Adrien Briod. "But we also want to help expand the boundaries of human knowledge by accessing places that couldn’t otherwise be reached."
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