News of the Thai cave rescue in has shocked and gripped the world. The mission has required a good deal of bravery and ingenuity to bring back members of the young football team – at the time of writing 8 of the children have been brought back to safety. But technology has also played a hugely important part in enabling rescuers to not only pinpoint the location of the missing boys, but also to eventually get them out safely.
With such a complex and unique there are no simple solutions. Rescuers have been creative in exploring innovations and a huge range of technologies that can help them bring the children to safety.
How rescuers located the lost football team
Identifying the exact location of the missing football team was perhaps the most challenging aspect of the rescue mission. This is why the team were missing, remarkably, for 9 days before they were discovered. However, there were a number of tools that were integral to their discovery.
To begin with, 3 drones with powerful 30x optical zoom cameras were used to build up a detailed picture of the area where the boys had gone missing. Wired reports that this allowed rescuers to create a 3d map of the area, which acted as the starting point for the search.
Once this map was created, the drones were then used to identify the numerous access points to the caves. This would allow the rescue teams to focus their efforts in specific areas. They could distribute themselves and prioritize the areas the team were most likely to be.
The team that made first contact with the missing boys actually used a pretty old communication tool – something called HeyPhones. HeyPhones were used by cavers in the U.K. some 20 years ago. They work because they use low-frequency waves, which mean they can pass through thick rock walls.
Now the team has been located, fibre optic cables have been passed down into the chambers to improve communication – something that’s going to be essential if they are all to be safely rescued.
Elon Musk’s innovative ideas to support the rescue mission
Elon Musk has been eager to help the rescue mission. His first solution a giant inflatable tunnel that could displace the water and provide a passage back to safety.
Maybe worth trying: insert a 1m diameter nylon tube (or shorter set of tubes for most difficult sections) through cave network & inflate with air like a bouncy castle. Should create an air tunnel underwater against cave roof & auto-conform to odd shapes like the 70cm hole.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 6, 2018
However, Musk has now offered up a new idea: “a tiny kid-sized submarine.”
Got more great feedback from Thailand. Primary path is basically a tiny, kid-size submarine using the liquid oxygen transfer tube of Falcon rocket as hull. Light enough to be carried by 2 divers, small enough to get through narrow gaps. Extremely robust.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 7, 2018
Whatever you think of Musk, you can’t accuse him of resting on his laurels. The ‘submarine’ is already being tested in LA. Musk shared videos of the tests on Twitter over the weekend:
Simulating maneuvering through a narrow passage pic.twitter.com/2z01Ut3vxJ
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 9, 2018
Although Musk has been working hard, and a spokesperson has said there has been communication between SpaceX and the Thai government, it isn’t clear if Musk’s submarine will be sent out to south east Asia.
A tale of human ingenuity and leveraging technology against the odds
The incident has been remarkable – it is undoubtedly a tale of survival against all odds, but as you can see it’s also a tale of human ingenuity and how technology can be leveraged to battle the elements. During a year where it’s felt like technology is working against humanity’s interests, it’s a good reminder that when used properly, we can do stunning things with the tools at our disposal.