With flying time costing 2000 euros per hour only the most prestigious ski resorts have a helicopter on stand-by. However and assuming the weather is favourable it remains the most effective search and rescue tool in the mountains. A low cost solution could revolutionize search and rescue: the Drone. Already on test with the rescue services in the Isere it should see more widespread deployment in ski resorts from next winter.
The Grenoble based company Delta Drone sees mountain search and rescue as a growth market and has adapted their Delta-Y for this environment. The Drone has a camera that is connected to the operator via a wireless link. There is an infrared option for cloud, fog and night flying. The images are analyzed by a computer in real time for shapes, colours and changes in density. The Drone can also carry equipment to detect avalanche transceivers but with a more powerful antenna to work over a wider area than ground based rescuers.
To fly in the thin mountain air the company had developed longer rotor blades. The aircraft can fly to 3500 meters altitude, operate in temperatures from -30°C to +45°C and wind speeds to 125 km/h. The cost between 2,500 to 5,000 depending on the configuration.
The company dreams of installing a drone close to the summit of Mont Blanc, it could make regular patrols of the summit ridge or go to the aid of stricken climbers, only returning to base to recharge its batteries. A sort of robot St Bernard. The drone has a loudspeaker and can “speak” multiple languages including French, English and Russian.
In ski resorts the drone could be used for search and rescue operations but also to patrol the slopes after they are closed to make sure no skiers are left on the mountain. Drones can also fly in formation, covering a wide area in a few minutes, the drones communicate with each other directly. More mundane operations such as inspecting lift infrastructure are also possible. Alpe d’Huez intends to use a drone to monitor the number of skiers on pistes to direct piste preparation and give information to skiers.
Delta Drone has 5 patents and delivered 190 drones in 2012.