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Fleet of eBee drones capture the immensity of the Matterhorn

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October 15, 2013

An eBee drone sails over the Matterhorn, acquiring data and taking pictures

An eBee drone sails over the Matterhorn, acquiring data and taking pictures

Image Gallery (14 images)

Explorers have mapped the surface of the iconic Matterhorn painstakingly by foot, by satellite, and now by drone, thanks to a partnership between drone maker senseFly and nonprofit Drone Adventures. Launching a small squadron of eBee minidrones off the summit and sides of the famous Alps mountaintop, the mission tested the navigational abilities of the system and created a staggering data-rich 3D model.

When Gizmag covered the eBee in January of this year, we mentioned several of the drone’s features that would prove crucial to the Matterhorn mission: its compact travel form, long flight time, ability to withstand 45 km/h (28 mph) winds, and 3D mapping and navigating capability. Having test-launched the eBee off a ski slope, the company turned to the Matterhorn for the next test of its abilities.

One climbing team hauled an eBee to the summit of the Matterhorn, a feat made easier by being able to fit the drone into a backpack. This summit launch also tested the eBee’s ability to take off into mountain wind and turbulence. Other eBees were launched from two other altitudes lower down the mountain. Together, 11 flights were made, for a total 340 minutes of flight time and a flight distance of 263.6 km (164 miles).

The company’s software eMotion 2 provided all the ground control for the flights, even automatically creating flight paths for the multiple drones and returning them to preset locations.

Automated flight plans for the many eBees that were launched from midway down the mountain
Automated flight plans for the many eBees that were launched from midway down the mountain

Large numbers and big data is one application at which drones excel, and the eBees didn’t disappoint, with 2,188 photos taken, an HD point-cloud with 3 million datapoints, and an average resolution of 20 cm (8 in).

For an idea of what these numbers mean, while viewing the image models you can easily make out the hotel-like Hörnlihütte where mountain climbers have been resting on the northeast ridge since 1880, but not see the much smaller 10-bed cabin Solvayhütte higher on the same ridge and recessed into a cliff face.

A 3D model of the Matterhorn created from the data acquired by the eBees
A 3D model of the Matterhorn created from the data acquired by the eBees

One may interact with data visualizations of the Matterhorn, presented as a 3D point cloud model (requires WebGL support), color relief elevation chart, and an image mosaic, courtesy of MapBox.

The video below details some of the preparation, process, and final results of the project, complete with breathtaking views of the Matterhorn.

Sources: senseFly, Drone Adventures via IEEE Spectrum

About the Author
Heidi Hoopes Heidi measures her life with the motley things she's done in the name of scientific exploration. While formally educated in biology and chemistry, informally she learns from adventures and hobbies with her family. Her simple pleasures in life are finding turtles while jogging and obsessively winnowing through her genetic data.   All articles by Heidi Hoopes
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7 Comments

Great Accomplishment! Congratulations to your entire team!

SpeedBird2014
15th October, 2013 @ 03:32 pm PDT

Pretty cool. I love rc wings.

JimRD
15th October, 2013 @ 06:19 pm PDT

So great a potential for good and a equal potential for evil.

Joseph Mertens
16th October, 2013 @ 10:41 am PDT

The project was only partially successful. Why did they have to climb the mountain to launch the drones?? Did the drones lack the power or endurance to make the flight to the peak?? The whole point of a drone is to go where you cannot, so possibly these drones still need development. While what they did was great, nevertheless the ability to launch from the base of the mountain would be more useful.

John Waller
16th October, 2013 @ 01:30 pm PDT

Or you could have hired an Aerial Mapping company to make a couple of passes with a large-format aerial mapping camera, and be done in 15 minutes.

alaskaken
16th October, 2013 @ 01:40 pm PDT

Great job! I love the critical thinkers that comment. Armchair scientists!

In any case Disneyland can build a better Matterhorn now because of this!

F Ed Knutson
17th October, 2013 @ 08:16 am PDT

Thank you for your comments, The challenge of this mission was to test take-off behavior at high altitudes and in mountain typical turbulence's. The eBee was launched at the summit of the Matterhorn (4478m), climbing up to an maximum altitude of 4707m. Six flights started just above the Hörnlihütte at an altitude of 3260m and mapped the north and east faces of the mountain reaching altitudes as high as 50m above the summit of the Matterhorn. So we were able to test the ability at high altitudes in typical conditions as well as being able to launch at lower altitudes and climb to the higher altitudes to complete projects.

Sophie - senseFly
31st October, 2013 @ 02:34 am PDT
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