Consumer drones from DJI to the recently kickstarted BIKI always tout their safety features. Object avoidance systems help pilots keep their expensive new toy in one piece. But there is one drone designed without these features in mind. In fact, it’s designed specifically to handle collisions and use them to help navigate. Meet Flyability’s Elios drone.

ESA astronauts were back in the La Cucchiara Caves near Sciacca, Sicily last weekend for the latest CAVES expedition. It stands for Cooperative Adventure for Valuing and Exercising human behavior and performance Skills.

To prepare for the isolation of deep space, astronauts head into a cave system in southern Italy. Tight spaces and relying on your team and equipment serves as a small taste of what these astronauts can expect in outer space.

ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano tried something new during his two days exploring the cave system. Using the Flyability drone, Parmitano was able to explore a part of the cave too dangerous for him and his team to access. The drone bumped and banged its way through the narrowing cave.

elios drone flying around cave

Credit: ESA, Natalino Russo

Luca Parmitano is no stranger to exploring isolated places on Earth and in space. He spent six months on the International Space Station and performed two spacewalks while he was there. He’s also a vet of ESA’s CAVES course and NASA’s underwater training mission NEEMO. He knows a thing or two about exploration. Check out a recent talk he gave about exploration and how astronauts prepare themselves for a trip into space.

“The drone used its thermal camera to map how the cave continued all the way to an unexplored area featuring water, impossible to reach for humans,” said ESA’s course coordinator Francesco Sauro.

We could one day see technology like this help the first explorers on Mars. Picture one of these drones cruising around the lava tubes on Mars. Even better when the drone pilot doesn’t have to worry about bumping into a wall or rock.

Watch how the Elios drone tackles the inspection of a ballast tank on a container ship. The hardy cage surrounding the drone lets it rest on surfaces to take high-quality video and images. It can even use its cage to roll around.

Exploring other worlds is already being led by robots. NASA rovers on Mars have been cruising around for 20 years. Once humans finally get to the red planet, one way we could quickly explore the Martian terrain is with drones like the Elios. Granted, it’s not as easy as just bringing a drone with you. The atmosphere on Mars is a lot thinner than on Earth. Drones would need to be specifically designed to fly there.

Still, drones like Elios give us a glimpse into ways we could use technology to help explore other worlds.


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