Foldable PowderBuddy drone saves skiiers' lives

Hamburg's Bluebird Mountain developing new, simpler avalanche technology
17 June 2018
Bluebird Mountain

Winter sports enthusiasts are relatively safe from avalanches on authorised ski slopes. However, things can quickly turn nasty in open terrain where skiers and snowboarders run far greater risks and might find themselves fleeing for their lives. Daniel Leppert (31), Markus Müller (30), Konstantin Kollar (31) and Moritz Obermeier (29) are fans of skiing off-piste and took part in safety training for the use of avalanche transceivers. Time can mean life or death in an emergency and after about ten to 15 minutes, the chances of recovering victims alive dwindle rapidly.

PowderBuddy identifies victim’s location from the air

Konstantin Kollar, one of four founders of the Hamburg-based Bluebird Mountain GmbH, said: “Avalanche transceivers alone are not ideal. Finding the precise location is quite complicated and time-consuming.” Enter PowderBuddy; a collapsible drone developed by Bluebird Mountain to help with the search. “When an avalanche starts tearing down a mountainside, the drone’s trigger handle is pulled. PowderBuddy is catapulted out of its tube on the backpack, unfolds, starts automatically and follows the user’s avalanche beacon at a safe distance from the surface,” Kollar explained. Thanks to the colour of the signal, the drone is visible from afar and recovery operations can begin quickly. If someone has been buried in the snow, the drone hovers above the exact location thus easing the retrieval of the victim.

Founding a high-tech company

Six years passed from the initial idea until the company actually launched in 2017. “We were still students at the time, and started our first jobs after graduating.” After a while, all four found that their contracts had expired more or less at the same time. “That made the idea of starting our own business a priority again. But we were faced with the question of how to start a high-tech company.” 

Kollar graduated in energy and environmental engineering while Müller is an aircraft systems technician and Obermeier a software developer. Leppert has a Masters in international economics. The founders eventually turned to the Startup Dock at the Technical University of Hamburg (TUHH) for assistance. “By then, we had received plenty of positive feedback about our drone, but we faced tough questions in the Startup Dock about selling the product, the costs of development and production and how to source the money. “

EXIST scholarship for founders and InnoRampUp

Kollar is well aware of the need for early financing. “And especially when it comes to implementing a hardware idea. Setting up production requires an intense investment.” So far, the start-up has been financed mainly by an EXIST start-up grant from the German Ministry of Economics and Energy and funds from the Hamburgische Investitions- und Förderbank (IFB) InnoRampUp programme. That allowed the start-up to develop its current prototype called Icarus. In February, some 25 new generation drones were delivered to test customers and partners for feedback from more experienced winter sports enthusiasts in various scenarios and to drive development. “We are also trying to become more diversified and to sell simpler versions faster,” said Kollar. Plans also foresee a drone that takes off manually and searches for avalanche victims. shows innovation

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