A couple of weeks ago a friend mentioned using drones to fly avalanche beacons to locate victims. The premise is quite straight forward. Since there is only a 30 minute window in which to rescue an avalanche victim, a drone can cover more area than people on the ground to find the victim. In addition helicopters are occasionally used with a specialized long range receiver to locate victims and a drone could replace the expense associated with a helicopter.
So I set about creating a rough prototype using an avalanche beacon and a DJI Phantom 3. Avalanche beacons work on a simple premise - turn on the receiver and read the leds showing how far away and the approximate direction to the victim. It should be noted that locating an avalanche victim takes specialized training and specific procedures as the process does not involve simply walking straight to the victim.
The system I developed is hanging the avalanche beacon below the DJI Phantom and then pointing the camera straight down. In order for the beacon to pick up the signal it is necessary to hang the avalanche beacon below the drone by a couple of feet because signals from the avalanche beacon are very sensitive to interference such as the motors on the drone.
Here is the method I came up with to hang the avalanche beacon from the drone.
While this method worked, there was a problem. The drone hung too far below the drone to read and the led lights were too small to be seen. I used openCv to process the individual frames of the video and enlarge the area around the avalanche beacon so the leds could be easily read.
By using the Phantom 3 and openCv it is possible to fly a beacon to find an avalanche victim.
Additional capabilities could be added such as mapping the victim's location or using the drone to mark the area over the victim with orange spray paint.
Obviously a Phantom 3 is not appropriate for carrying an avalanche beacon, however this example shows it is possible to utilize a drone in helping to search for avalanche victims.
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