With the ability to scan areas beyond the reach of human eyes, camera-equipped drones are emerging as a valuable tool for rescue efforts of all kinds. Now one startup is tuning the technology to the rugged Canadian wilderness, launching a portable drone that can be quickly unpacked and unleashed to capture thermal images and sniff out hikers that have wandered off course.

The Sentry drone features a cylindrical design, kind of like the Modular Sprite drone we covered last year which was also designed for the great outdoors. This is intended to make it easier to slide into a backpack and be lugged through the woods, with four rotors that fold inwards to make for a compact 10 cm-wide, 45 cm-tall (4 x 17.7 in) package.

It won't autonomously navigate forest trails like drones under development at the University of Zurich, but the Sentry is said to take as few as 10 seconds to unpack and set in flight, with the ability to stay in the air for 15 minutes at a time. These short spurts fall well short of the longer flight times of some surveillance drones, but could prove useful enough in scoping out gullies or cliffsides for lost persons.

Video comes by way of an infrared camera that streams 320 x 240 thermal video to a pocket-portable 5-inch display, which can record the video for later viewing. A cheaper version is also available that carries a HD video camera and records 720p video to an onboard SD Card.

The Sentry comes in a waterproof casing with a rating of IP57 and is said to be buoyant, which would be handy should it come down to land in a stream or lake. Its creators also claim that it has been crash-tested and with a patent-pending propellor guard can stand up to some degree of impact. A video demonstration of its durability can be seen below.

Crafted from a combination of aluminum, carbon fiber, fiberglass and polycarbonate, the Sentry drone is relatively hiker-friendly with a weight of 1 kg (2.2 lb). The company behind it, Riderless Technologies, is very much billing it primarily as a search and rescue tool, though does imagine it finding use in conservation, security and aerial inspection applications as well.

Priced at CAD$4,995 (US$3,687), the infrared version might be beyond the budget of your average weekend trekker. It appears to be aimed more at mountain search and rescue teams as a cheaper alternative to calling on helicopters for an aerial perspective. The non-infrared version is more affordable at CAD$2,495 (US$1,842). Both are available for preorder and are expected to ship some time this year.

You can see a demonstration of the non-infrared version in the video below.

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