Could Drones Be The Future Of Mountaineering?

SenseFly drone Matterhorn

Drone company senseFly and image processing software company Pix4D recently teamed up to create an extremely detailed 3D model of the Matterhorn. Four drones were used to photograph the mountain from every conceivable angle, snapping thousands of high resolution photographs in just six hours. 

Weighing less than two pounds each, the eBee drones from senseFly can fly completely autonomous, requiring nothing more than a computer based flight plan before launched by hand into the air to complete their mission. The eBee has a flight time of up to 45 minutes, allowing it to cover areas of up to 10 square km or roughly four square miles in a single flight. The drone's 16MP camera can shoot aerial photographs down to 3cm/pixel (1in/pixel) resolution. The images can then be used to create maps and elevation models with a precision of 5cm (2in).

To model the Matterhorn, three eBee drones were launched from the base, with a fourth launched from the summit. During their flight, the drones took more than 2,000 high-resolution photographs which were then fed into the Pix4D software to create a 300 million point 3D model of the mountain. You can see the amazing result in the video below.

I can see drones becoming a fabulous tool for route planning on unclimbed mountains. Think of creating a 3D model of some of the remote peaks in Pakistan to figure out what lines might actually be climbable and the most interesting, before waging a full on expedition. 

What about drones for use in rescue situations? Photographs could indicate the exact location of the troubled party to aid in the Search and Rescue efforts. Perhaps the hunt for Irvine has found a new tool with the possibility of high res images of the entire face of Everest. All pretty cool stuff.  


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