Photos: Drones for good - from disaster rescue to replanting the world's forests

Disaster rescue

When three of the six nuclear reactors in Fukushima melted down in 2011 Japan deployed robots to help contain the disaster.

But while various remote-controlled and autonomous machines were able to operate in the irradiated area, the ability of drones to help was limited by the debris blocking access to areas near the reactor cores.

The Swiss firm Flyability's answer is Gimball, a drone that can happily bash into walls and debris and carry on flying.

Gimball is surrounded by a spherical cage that protects it from knocks and bumps that would fell other drones.

The machine is designed to operate in the aftermath of disasters and emergencies, such as earthquakes and fires, where there may be hazards the drone could collide with or a confined space to work in.

Gimball's ability to navigate these cramped environments comes from being able to remain stable after collisions and to roll along surfaces, in addition to flying.

Its on-board optical and thermal imaging equipment allows it to identify victims through smoke, as well as to gather information during an incident, for example by reading the labels on a chemical container.

The team's fully-working prototype won the Drones for Good contest, and received the $1m grant.

Image: Flyability

By Nick Heath

Nick Heath is a computer science student and was formerly a journalist at TechRepublic and ZDNet.