First drone delivery tests in Mt Everest

We should have known when pictures first leaked in China of a drone hauling solar panels up a mountain that DJI did not have the tidier side of delivery by drone in mind when it made the DJI Flycart 30.

They are not interested in delivering pizza or coffee or grocery items into people’s homes; instead DJI saw the market value of drones making deliveries in more challenging environments; and the company’s latest tests in Mt Everest are further proof.

In April this year DJI teamed up with Nepalese drone service company Airlift; video production company 8KRAW; and Nepalese certified mountain guide Mingma Gyalje Sherpa, to test the Flycart 30’s ability to withstand extremely low temperatures at extremely high altitudes; and the hoary, harsh mountainous conditions of Mt Everest while 15kg packages up and down the mountain.

Carried out on the Mount Qomolangma part of the tallest mountain in the world, the tests saw the Flycart successfully deliver three oxygen bottles and 1.5kg of other supplies from Everest Base Camp to the Camp 1 destination, which stands at 5,300-6,000m above sea level (ASL).

On the return trip, the drone descended carrying trash from the camp.

“From the end of April, our team embarked on a ground-breaking endeavour to help make clean-up efforts on Everest safer and more efficient,” said Christina Zhang, Senior Corporate Strategy Director at DJI.

“We are thrilled to share that our DJI FlyCart 30 was up to the task. The ability to safely transport equipment, supplies, and waste by drone has the potential to revolutionise Everest mountaineering logistics, facilitate trash clean-up efforts, and improve safety for all involved.”

According to DJI, this is the first time a drone has complete a round trip delivery mission of this kind in this area.

Everest Base Camp is separated from Camp 1 by the Khumbu Icefall; which is reportedly one of the most perilous stages of the ascent.

While helicopters can theoretically make the same journey, they are rarely used due to the significant dangers and costs. Traditionally, the responsibility of transporting supplies and clearing trash on Everest has fallen on the shoulders of local Sherpa guides who may need to cross the icefall over 30 times in a season to transport supplies such as oxygen bottles, gas canisters, tents, food, and ropes.

“We need to spend between six and eight hours each day walking through this icefall,” said Mingma Gyalje Sherpa, Imagine Nepal mountain guide.

The hazardous climb across the Khumbu Icefall typically happens at night when temperatures are lowest and the ice is most stable.

“Last year I lost three Sherpas. If we’re not lucky, if our time is not right, we lose our lives out there.”

DJI and the professionals working in the mountains are hoping the Flycart will help ease the burden on Sherpas and save lives, at least where package delivery is concerned. An unmodified drone can carry 15kg between camps in 12 minutes for a round trip, day or night.

Before undertaking delivery flights, DJI engineers considered the extreme environmental challenges of Everest, including temperatures ranging between -15° to 5°C, wind speeds up to 15m/s, and high altitudes over 6,000m ASL.

Several rigorous tests with the FlyCart 30 were then conducted, including unloaded hover, wind resistance, low-temperature, and weight capacity tests with successively heavier payloads.

The Flycart 30 also hope to help with the clean-up efforts in Mt Everest.

“Each climber is estimated to leave 8kg of trash behind on Everest and, despite clean-up efforts, an estimated tonnes of waste remains on its slopes,” said DJI.

“If drone technology can ease this burden on clean-up crews, DJI is eager to help. DJI FlyCart 30 can efficiently transport garbage and human waste down the mountain, reducing the volume of trips Sherpas must make across the Khumbu Icefall.”

The climbing season of Everest is restricted to April and May, and DJI says further activities and drone testing are restricted for the rest of the year due to adverse weather.

“However, because of recent successful trials, the Nepalese government contracted a local drone service company to establish drone delivery operations on the southern slope of Everest starting on May 22.

“The deployment of delivery drones in high-altitude regions not only promises to enhance safety and efficiency in these challenging environments but also highlights the importance of environmental conservation and sustainable practices within the mountaineering industry.”

Launched globally in January 2024, the DJI FlyCart 30 provides delivery solutions tailored to the unique needs and challenges of local users.

It has been deployed to help plant saplings in steep hillside environments and line pulling in Japan, to transform solar PV installation in Mexico, to aid mountain fire rescue efforts in Norway, and to improve scientific research operations in Antarctica.


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