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Drones for detection of avalanche victims.

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
An interesting piece on the BBC website this morning , not sure if posted already.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-47309085
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Some interesting ideas there but they still need to be there when someone get caught in a slide. It's no good having to wait until the MRT get there with the kit.
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 Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
An interesting idea but from operating a drone in the mountains and playing both professionally and privately with avalanches and beacons I would say it's not going to be of much use.
Drones don't work in crap weather. The skills and training involved to use those skills in being able to operate a drone in stressful conditions, you are much better off having another patroller.
As for drones to drop explosives on the slopes yeah neat idea. But for way less money you can build far more reliable fixed installations like bomb trams. Avalanches (or the potential for them) strangely enough occur in the same place.
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The Univ. of Lausanne has been doing some interesting R&D on using drones in disaster zones, along with a number of Swiss start-ups. Drones in this case also include fixed-wing craft which can carry much heavier payloads. The latter are already used a lot in crop surveying, apparently. One line of work is for large-scale disasters where a conventional fixed-wing drone survey can at least map the extent of the damage on the ground. Another is for a resort, say , to immediately launch a fixed-wing drone to pass over the area with special detection equipment. Because the payloads can be much heavier and the drone is more streamlined, a fixed-wing can carry more advanced gear and stay up longer. Although these industrial-grade drones are expensive - think £30-£50K - but for a large resort having a couple wouldn't be excessively costly. All very interesting.
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 Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
I didn't read the piece, but they used a drone to find some people who'd strayed away from a resort in BC earlier this year - I think it was one of the Vancouver hills actually.

For avalanche rescue, I'm not really sure of the utility. I normally ride with helicopter support, and they don't use the machines to search for transceivers, or use the Recco thing other than for body recovery. I'm not completely sure why, but I'd assume that using the machine to drop trained searchers works better, in that terrain. Of course drones and heli don't work well together. I know which I'd prefer to have on hand. If you've worked much with drones you may be somewhat skeptical of their ability to navigate in typical mountain conditions with little visual support and winds strong enough to make flying huge helicopters "sporting".

My fantasy rapid-body-recovery would be transceivers which are smart enough to "know" where all the people in a group are in real time. Then you you don't need to search at all.
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Drone augmented search and rescue will only be truly effective when we have 'ident' squawk' built into each avalanche transceiver and fer us users to be far more aware about how that would work and just how many "pre-flight" checks we would be required to make to facilitate a drone based search patern. A multi drone search would be very fast in that circumstance . . .BUT . . . water is a sponge fer nearly all radiation frequencies. I'm certain that in the very near future we will see resorts with an automated AI drone search program to augment and guide the rescue teams.
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 Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...
Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...
Quote:

water is a sponge fer nearly all radiation frequencies


That's the tricky part; detection system that can sense through 1-3m of snow. I'm sure it's do-able though.
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 After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
Drones would certainly have limitations e.g. operating in high winds but a lot of the other problems could be easily overcome. Just think aloud, but a drone could be programmed with a topographic map of the entire ski area. In the event of a slide then an alert might be sent out either by a guide or perhaps automatically by an airbag triggering. This could give an approximate location of the incident to within a few hundred metres. The drone might be able to be launched autonomously from the closest lift station, fly to the incident site and then fly a search pattern at a suitable height above the ground (5m?). Once a target is located the position would be logged and a marker dart dropped. Simples!

A drone could be kept low enough to be out of the way of most helicopter action and the mapping would enable it to fly in zero vis.

The tricky part would be planning the search area before a human operator could get to the site.
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With the wonders of modern technology, if only somebody could develop an echo-location device perhaps using an array of quickly deployable microphones into the snow on poles and a sound generator to virtually see through an avalanche site using sound waves and locate bodies buried within, a bit like sonar does through water to find submarines or map out the seabed.
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@Pukmeister,
There are so many water air interfaces within an avalanche, you need solid water or air to echolocate, I think
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As @foxtrotzulu, thinking aloud, if you launched a personal drone in risk situation to follow you, wouldn't it stay with you on location if you became immobile?

I know that suggests you know the risk, and perhaps shouldn't be there. But maybe it could be utilised in some situations.

Could that capability be progressed, it's somewhat similar to carrying a ABS system in that you acknowledge risk is there.

I recently observed a "prototype " drone being flown near me. At first, because of the speed, I thought it a potent model fixed wing. It was moving with such astonishing speed and agility. Went to talk with pilot of it and he had built it himself from components (not kit) it was running nearly 2kg thrust in each of four motors and would reach true speed of 80mph not scale. Clearly it had the ability to fly in almost any wind conditions, unusual for something of this size.

He was piloting with aid of pilot eye view headset and linked a second set into comms to let us see from the flight deck as it was. This drone platform performance was literally stunning, he was running it under tree canopy then above and navigating around obstacles at frankly unbelievable speeds. It just seemed like it had a power to weight ratio that would negate most weather conditions. Very significant potential with right development it would seem.
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 And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
Could IR mounted on the drone be used to locate a buried victim?
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So if you're just off somewhere snowy come back and post a snow report of your own and we'll all love you very much
@Scooter in Seattle, Not sure IR would penetrate deeply enough. Maybe another frequency? Need a physicist on here.
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 You know it makes sense.
You know it makes sense.
Given that the human body is mostly liquid and snow is, well, fairly solid, there must be a way of detecting a small 'body' of liquid over a wide area. Microwaves?
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 Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
(I really need to stop thinking about this ASAP rolling eyes )
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 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
My suspicion is that it is not commercially viable to build the high tech kit we are thinking about here. The massive tech investment, testing and production costs would outweight the modest financial gains of the end product within a limited market.

If an altruistic billionaire like Elon Musk or Bill Gates were to take on the challenge it might be a different story.
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
@ski3, If you know you are skiing in an area that is such high risk that you would consider launching a drone to follow each skier then surely airbags, transceivers and trailing 10m orange streamers would be a better and simpler solution. Also, the drone would need to pinpoint you to the metre and I’m not sure that would work. Most consumer drones track the subject visually so as soon as you get swept up in an avalanche it would lose you. I don’t think that’s a goer.
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 Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
AL9000 wrote:
Given that the human body is mostly liquid and snow is, well, fairly solid, there must be a way of detecting a small 'body' of liquid over a wide area. Microwaves?
Surely a human body is a great deal denser / more solid than snow? Settled snow has a density of 200-300kg/m3. A human body has a density of nearly 1000kg/m3.
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Couldn’t a solution be developed with heat seeking infra red, akin to what police helicopters use in criminal detection when on the run? Buried people are warm surrounded by snow which is cold.
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 Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
@Markymark29, Most avalanche victims are wearing insulated clothing which will reduce the amount of heat given off. If people just wore small radio beacons it would make them easier to detect. Hmm..
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I think there's a bit more that can be done with existing tech. ie. GPS data embedded in the send signal coupled with a backpack signal amplifier (There's plenty of room in pack straps to fit aerials and boost the send signal and triggered by inertia changes). Then yes, a small/micro drone dedicated to transceiver search frequencies would definitely work with both manual control and/or a pattern algorithm. I think we'll see a transceiver maker in this market within two years if not next season.
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 Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...
Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...
Markymark29 wrote:
Couldn’t a solution be developed with heat seeking infra red, akin to what police helicopters use in criminal detection when on the run? Buried people are warm surrounded by snow which is cold.
I have a feeling that even leaves can block IR/thermal imaging, so even 4 inches of snow might make it useless.
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 After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
What about their mobile 'phones? Won't most people have a mobile 'phone on them? Would there be a way of detecting the signal? Or using the Bluetooth discovery protocol? Or an app that used BT or WiFi to transmit a unique signature of some sort e.g. the app pings once every 5 mins, then if it receives a particular response, goes into some sort of full-transmission mode?
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If you watch the GoPro headcam footage in the Sky News avalanche thread I posted earlier elsewhere, you will see first hand what it is like as a skier/boarder to get swept away and buried beneath the snow. Its a stark display of the risks and how quickly it goes wrong. Thankfully the guy in the avalanche wasn't buried too deeply and his mates located him in pretty quick time from his screams for help, providing air and then rescue.

If he had been knocked unconscious I doubt they would have rescued him. Speed is of the essence obviously, so whatever location device is developed, it would need to be quickly deployed and simple in operation with a high degree of accuracy. A drone would need more than just a camera.

Drones carrying small avalanche rescue dogs, now there's a thought..... Very Happy
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@foxtrotzulu, thought you could get them to follow a phone if using an app to control.

Also have return to control function in some if they meet certain parameters.

So, question is, would it search (in effect) for its controller if no inputs are received or sensed from GPS of phone/track target?
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@LaForet, Phone signal seems like the most convenient method. It would require a very sensitive detector (phone and transceiver) to catch whatever signal gets through the snow.

Speed being of the essence, a large interconnected squadron of small detector drones could track multiple targets quite quickly. Like an electronic net flying up the avalanche debris (e.g. 20 drones, 2m apart). It could drop a flare or paint bomb at the location n carry on the search with the others.

Or, in smaller resorts, a single drone acquiring n hovering over a signal (while telling other drones of its location). Like a dog but quicker. The benefit of this is that ANY drone can be adapted - just needs to have the signal detector attachment n software controlling it.
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 And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
Anyone see those display of light (bit like a choreographed firework display) using squadrons of drone?

Alot of pre work, but spectacularly accurate formation flying.

There's alot of capability out there, just depends if realistic use can be made of differing elements for this scenario.
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 So if you're just off somewhere snowy come back and post a snow report of your own and we'll all love you very much
So if you're just off somewhere snowy come back and post a snow report of your own and we'll all love you very much
OwenM wrote:
Some interesting ideas there but they still need to be there when someone get caught in a slide. It's no good having to wait until the MRT get there with the kit.


There's a German product coming out that is designed to be deployed by someone in the group - hopefully not the person in the group who needs rescuing!

https://www.snowindustrynews.com/articles/2019/february/bluebird-mountain-launches-powderbee-avalanche-rescue-drone-auto-hovers-over-victim-for-easy-location/

Looks small enough to live in a back pack. I would think a group would need more than one though.
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 You know it makes sense.
You know it makes sense.
In some situations it could be helpful. For something like Crans Montana last week, where you have a massive slide across the piste with an unknown number buried, being able to quickly cover the whole area and pick up possible transceiver / Recco signals might enable rescuers to home in much quicker, with greater chances of survival. You would still have to search people without any transmitter/reflector, but you could get to those who have them quicker.

Even for small groups off piste, if it can quickly narrow down a large initial seach area, it could make the difference between survival or not.
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 Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
This article on the BBC website is interesting, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-47309085
I know Mountain Rescue in Scotland have used drones successfully to find people but that is not under snow.
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 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
Used here too by North Shore Rescue
https://www.nsnews.com/news/new-drone-to-assist-with-north-shore-rescue-operations-1.2281722
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
@Masque, nice optimism about technology, but I have my doubts. First, the GPS data could be a red herring for searchers. It may not report a current position (ie where the wearer stopped after the avalanche stopped sliding) but their position before the avalanche. OK, you could add in the time stamp of when it was taken. But what about accuracy of the position? It could be within a 5m radius, or a 100m radius... How do the searchers know whether to believe it or not? That’s all getting too complicated for my liking in an every-second-counts scenario, and even with training seems to me to require a lot of analysis at a time when we know people (potential rescuers) are very stressed and unlikely to make good decisions. Second, there’s a very real risk of rucksacks getting torn off during the avalanche. I’d be very wary about embracing complicated technology that requires wired or wireless connections between my beacon and my rucksack or anything else - too much to go wrong. I think the best approach is to keep it simple.
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 Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Pukmeister wrote:
Drones carrying small avalanche rescue dogs, now there's a thought..... Very Happy

I know of a couple of Jack Russells that would need little if any training to qualify . . . And stop giving weathercam really bad ideas wink
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Masque wrote:
Pukmeister wrote:
Drones carrying small avalanche rescue dogs, now there's a thought..... Very Happy

I know of a couple of Jack Russells that would need little if any training to qualify . . . And stop giving weathercam really bad ideas wink


My miniature schnauzers would be fine at the sniffing bit, but I don't fancy trying to shovel yellow snow after they have marked the spot. Very Happy
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