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This project, funded by Gebert Rüf Stiftung, is supported by the following project partners: HEI-VS; Air-Glaciers SA; Cimark SA; Fondation Inartis; IG Group SA
Project no: GRS-017/19
Amount of funding: CHF 149'000
Duration: 02.2019 - 03.2021
Area of activity:
First Ventures, seit 2018
c/o Espace Création
Bureau B8, Rue de la Dixence 10
1950 Sion (Schweiz)
The use of drones as professional tools is developing steadily. Thanks to their abilities, they represent an efficient, fast and safe solution to help rescuers and safety professionals.
In the current state of the art, search for avalanche victims is first conducted on the ground by rescuers engaged by the ski lifts of a ski resort. After approximately fifteen minutes, this rapid intervention team is then joined by professional rescue guides, paramedics and specialist mountain doctors. Those professionals are all brought to the avalanche area by helicopter companies which are key actors in the swiss life-line. The whole team then continues to conduct a ground search to localize a victim thanks to its avalanche beacon.
Considering that under an avalanche the first fifteen minutes are crucial for survival, search time is of paramount importance. This key parameter can be influenced by both bad weather conditions as well as the difficult evolution of the intervention teams on chaotic ground and risky zones. Last, the rescuer’s vision only covers what can be seen from the ground.
A main advantage of using a drone in such a situation resides in the fact that the whole avalanche area can be observed with a global vision without being affected by the nature of the terrain. The autonomous feature of that aircraft allows rescuers to launch it and focus on other tasks – such as medical supply preparations or free first found victims from snow. Moreover, the solution proposed in this project will be able to manage the complex and well-known problem of multiple buried victims. This will drastically decrease the search time and boost the victim chances of survival. Indeed, our technology could ensure more safety for intervention teams and provide them a solution even when they can’t intervene directly.
Our main goal is so to develop a 1st proof-of-concept product at the end of the year and to run our first field trials and beta-tests with ski resorts.
What is special about the project?
Our main innovation resides in the development of an autonomous and optimized avalanche beacon research algorithm combined with professional "off the shelf" drones augmented with specific hardware. The main advantages of our approach compared to the existing and manual ground search currently used are:
- Increased survivability of victims by decreasing search time.
- Multiple victim detection.
- Reduced risks taken by rescuers involved.
- Better accessibility to difficult terrains.
Our project was first analysed during the last year of our bachelor’s degree in a business course of the School of Management from the HES-SO in Sierre. There, we worked on the development of the project from a business perspective to determine the potential market the project could target, a work which enabled us to win an award for the best project of the year 2018.
Based on the general interest for the project, we worked on two Bachelor theses at the School of Engineering of Sion. The first one developed a software environment allowing to control and interface with an industrial drone developed by the world leader in the domain. The main objective was to offer the user on the ground an interface with the drone to make it perform autonomous missions and manage them. The second Bachelor thesis successfully tested three different search algorithms based on a numerical model of a drone coupled with avalanche transceiver technology.
After the completion of the two bachelor theses, the team spent two months combining the two projects. Besides that, we got a 3-months cantonal grant and build up our partnership with the well-known helicopter rescue company Air-Glaciers.
The product is so currently under development. Our team is working on a first version of the drone (1st proof-of-concept) that will allow us to perform various tests, and to present a first version of our product to our partners.
During the first milestone, a new onboard computer has been chosen to achieve an advanced signal processing. The goal is to extract antenna information to guide the aircraft and localize buried people.
During the second milestone we designed a signal treatment algorithm that allow us working on a clear signal from the buried emitter (no more disturbances). We then, based on this signal, developed the search algorithm on the drone and tested it on the field to improve his efficiency.
During the third milestone, we worked with a team from the ETH in order to improve our solution. The relative team use a AT transceiver from Mammut to acquire the beacon signal. We combined their acquisition system with our algorithm to test the solution on our drone. Because of legal restrictions concerning Mammut, we did not have the chance to run tests on the field. Instead of that, we emulated the measurements with real data collected by the ETH team. The idea was to be as close as possible to real conditions of our combined solution. We obtained results that showed that the drone was able to find the avalanche transceiver. The next step would be to do the same tests on the field and compare the solution efficiency. We also added a module on our drone to measure the flight height over the snow and implemented basic obstacle avoidance to ensure safety operations.
In addition to product development, the team is also working on several financing solutions, as well as various legal and commercial aspects. A partnership with HEI-VS and the incubator The Ark will facilitate networking and bringing missing skills throughout the project.
Thanks to the support of Gebert Rüf Stiftung, our project has achieved wide public visibility locally as well nationally proving the impact of our project for society. A new partner, IG Group SA, joined the project by providing his expertise for the needs of technical development. New business opportunities and new potential collaborations and future synergies have emerged too. Finally, Nivitec got an official entry in the entrepreneurial support programme of the HEI-VS as well got accepted into the Initial Coaching programme of Innosuisse.
The support of our university has been fundamental to build an important network in the industry and access key skills for the future of our project. We are so glad to be able to count on it to continue our Ra&D developments.
Jonathan Michel, 2018, «Système embarqué pour drone Matrice 210», Haute École d’ingénierie de Sion;
Bontempelli Vincent, 2018, «Détection de victimes d’avalanches par drone (analyse du signal et stratégies de déplacement du drone) », Haute École d’ingénierie de Sion.
Persons involved in the project
Last update to this project presentation 08.03.2021