Over the weekend of May 20th to 21st Flyability has taken part in an expedition that marks a new milestone in cave exploration. For the first time, a drone has been used – for a scientific purpose – to explore the area of a cave that would have been otherwise inaccessible or too dangerous for a human to explore.
Flyability took part in the scientific expedition (ref article from ESA) organized by the La Venta Association and Commissione Grotte Eugenio Boegan, together with the European Space Agency and astronaut Luca Parmitano, in the La Cucchiara caves near Sciacca, Sicily. Part of ESA’s Cooperative Adventure for Valuing and Exercising human behavior and performance Skills course (CAVES-X1), this expedition was primarily meant to train astronauts in an environment replicating extraterrestrial conditions. It has also been the opportunity to deploy Elios in extreme conditions by performing the exploration of an underground abyss.
The known part of the cave consists of a gallery that ends in a 100 m deep abyss. This is as far as humans could go in the exploration and that’s where the collision-tolerant drone was used to continue the journey. With an ambient temperature of 37°C, 100% of humidity and continuous rain from condensation, the Flyability team joining the expedition operated the drone to find potential unexplored paths. Using Elios’ thermal camera to detect hidden hot air sources, the team could very quickly and clearly identify openings of various size.
Performing the same investigation with humans would have been too dangerous. The ambient temperature and the level of humidity make every human action burdensome and risky. The ability of Elios to bounce off nearby obstacles has been instrumental in gathering evidence of uncharted paths.
Back in the office, the four Flyability cavemen bring back, with a big smile on their face, some unique footages from the depth of the earth. For the rest of the team, this represents an extreme reward for the numerous sleepless nights spent in developing that product which, today, pushes the boundaries of exploration.
In the name of all the Flyability team, thank you to La Venta Association, Commissione Grotte Eugenio Boegan and the European Space Agency for the outstanding experience.