Earlier this year, senseFly took to the Alps to demonstrate how their eBee drones could be deployed from the middle of a ski slope (or just about anywhere else) to autonomously create high resolution 2D and 3D maps while you sit around sipping hot chocolate. I guess maybe they figured that it looked just a little bit too easy, because senseFly has teamed up with Drone Adventures to autonomously map the entire Matterhorn mountain on the border between Switzerland and Italy (an area of 28 square kilometers) using a handful of eBees in less than a day.
The first step in making a map of a 4,500 meter tall Swiss mountain is hoisting a drone up to the top of it and flinging it off, and Drone Adventures (being pros at the whole "Adventures" thing) took care of that with no problem. Meanwhile, five more drones took care of mapping the lower parts of the mountain:
SenseFly is demonstrating a few cool things here. For one, as you can see at about 2:25 in the vid, the drones are doing their own 3D flight planning. To get them to create a map of an area, you can just outline it on Google Maps, and the flight planning software will take into account whatever mountains, valleys, or unusually tall people might be in the way.
The other cool bit is that they've got multiple drones working together to create seamless maps of much larger areas. You can apparently use up to ten (!) at once, all controlled from a single base station, and the drones are clever enough to not smash into one another, even coordinating landing times.
We've tried an eBee out for ourselves, and once you figure out how to avoid throwing it straight into the ground (which of course we didn't do several times in a row because that would have been silly), it really is as simple as clicking some points on a map, launching the drone, and then finding a comfortable spot to nap in until it gently crash lands next to you. Plug the drone into a computer, and in just a little bit, you've got your map.
SenseFly's system isn't the cheapest autonomous drone you can get, not by a long shot. But it takes care of absolutely everything for you, such that you can toss it off the top of a mountain and meet it down at the bottom. Next, we'd like to see a slightly larger version of the eBee that includes the capability of getting itself to the top of those mountains so that you don't have to lug it up there with you. And hey, maybe if it could carry a pack or two on the way up, that wouldn't be a bad thing either.