HomeDrone Vs. Volcano: How Do Drones Change Exploration?

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It’s early morning on my second day at Marum Crater, and as I drift in and out of sleep, I try to place the incongruous buzzing that seems to have awoken me. I unzip the tent’s vestibule and peer outside, where a small drone hovers in the distance, four blades whirring in synchrony and small camera pointed back toward camp. “Let’s get going,” urges Simon Jardine, the man behind the joystick, punctuating his flyover with a well-intentioned cackle. “There’s a fiery pit of lava to go explore!”

For all his joie de vivre, Jardine is a master drone builder and pilot whose skills have produced remarkable footage for shows like Australian Top Gear, the BBC’s Into the Volcano, and a range of music videos. His company Aerobot sells camera-outfitted drones, including custom jobs that require unique specifications like, say, the capacity to lift an IMAX camera. From a sprawling patch of coastline real estate in Queensland, Australia, Jardine builds, tests, and tweaks his creations; the rural tranquility is conducive to a process that may occasionally lead to unidentified falling objects.

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Simply put, if you’ve got a drone flying challenge, Jardine is your first call.

Sam Cossman, the adventurer who put this expedition together, got Jardine on board early in the planning process. “I met Simon on my first expedition to Vanuatu,” he recalls, “one morning when we had both awoken early to catch first light.” After leaving their respective trips and following each other’s work, the mutual admiration grew. “When I decided to return to the volcano,” says Cossman, “I knew Simon would be an integral part of the expedition because of his familiarity with the terrain, the extreme flying conditions, and his level of expertise.”