New Twist On Scalable Electronics?

Engineer to climb Annapurna with wearables, will power.


Snug in their tents at Everest base camp a few years ago, Matt Du Puy and his colleagues marveled at the howling snowstorm outside, until they peeked out and saw snow drifts piling up quickly. They made a quick decision to tug on their boots and seek safer ground. As they did, clutches of other campers emerged and fell in line, bleary-eyed refugees trudging through the darkness.

“We got off the mountain just in time,” he said recently. “We didn’t expect two meters of snow in eight hours.”

Neither did two other mountaineers, who were asphyxiated, unable to escape their tents, if they awoke at all.

Would portable oxygen or carbon dioxide monitors or some type of snow alarm have saved the pair? Perhaps. Du Puy, a software engineer with ARM, is attempting this month to summit Annapurna (26,545 feet) and nearby Dhaulagiri (26,795 feet) on the same trip. And he’ll be taking with him a host of portable and wearable electronics devices to capture data, communicate with the outside world and monitor weather and temperature. The technology is changing the way humans engage in some of the most dangerous — but thrilling — activity in the world.

Here’s what he’s taking with him (You’ll be able to follow his progress on his DeLorme site):

  • Huawei Nexus 6p smartphone, used as GPS and camera as well as audio book repository (159.3 x 77.8 x 7.3 mm; weight 178g; Android Marshmallow; Chipset Qualcomm MSM8994 Snapdragon 810; CPU Quad-core 1.55 GHz Cortex-A53 & Quad-core 2.0 GHz Cortex-A57; LiPo battery, up to 23 hours talk time)
  • Suunto Ambit 3 Peak watch (weight 89 g; LiOn battery for 20-200 hours usage, depending on selected GPS accuracy; GPS accuracy to 1m)
  • Pulse Oximeters (to measure our O² saturation)
  • Thuraya IP satellite broadband modem (216mm x 216mm x 45mm; 1.4 kg; packet data speeds: 384 kbps [streaming IP], 444 kbps [standard IP])
  • DeLorme inReach SE satellite communicator (including antenna: 14.8 x 6.3 cm x 3.4 cm; 190 g; GPS accuracy to +/- 5 meters)
  • GoPro Hero 4 Black camera capable of 4k video.
  • Samsung Chromebook

Most of these are ARM-powered in some way, which is notable because the power considerations on this trip are huge. Power sources are not abundant, to state the obvious. He and his climbing partners will use a NOMAD 20 solar panel and a Sherpa 50 battery/AC inverter plus another generic 20,000mAH LiPo battery pack. They’ll have a backup Honda generator for emergency power at base camp.

In 10 years of mountaineering, Matt has summited Everest and K2, among other “big mountains.” He’s attempting Annapurna and Dhaulagiri on his sabbatical. And while he’s used electronics on past trips, he wanted to step up his kit this time to understand how technology might help evolve mountaineering.

Du Puy told me his team generally begins ascents with 120 pounds per person in sleds, from base camp. Along the way they shed roughly 60 pounds and come back down the mountain with nearly empty packs. Technology evolves on electronics and physical fronts: A “giant” DLSR camera he once lugged to the top “has been shrunk to a quarter of the size today,” Du Puy said.

As for himself, Du Puy’s ideal weight is 160-170 pounds, but he’s been bulking up in anticipation of the expedition.

“That’s the singles coolest part of these expedition,” he said. “We stress about our weight normally, but here you can throw caution to the wind. Order the items with most calories. Order the noodles!”

He’ll burn about 800 calories an hour, or about a pound a day, when he climbs. When the trip’s over, Du Puy will have lost at least 20 pounds.

Along the way, he’ll be keeping track of his heart rate, oxygen and calorie loss with electronics—devices that Sir Edmund Hillary couldn’t have imagined 63 years ago when he made his way up Everest.

“Mountain climbing is equal parts preparation, problem solving and will power,” he said. “It is also a lovely excuse to travel and make amazing, passionate friends along the way. And each time we get more adept at kitting ourselves out, gear gets lighter and, in the case of electronics, more interesting and useful for climbers.”