Briton dies on Everest while testing safety equipment

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The Independent Online

A British computer expert has died while trying to scale Mount Everest on a climb during which he was testing pioneering software designed to help ensure the safety of mountaineers.

A British computer expert has died while trying to scale Mount Everest on a climb during which he was testing pioneering software designed to help ensure the safety of mountaineers.

Dr Rob Milne, 49, died on Saturday 1,200 feet short of the summit, where he would have completed his 25-year ambition of climbing the highest mountains on all the seven continents.

Details of his death have not yet been disclosed, but it is believed he collapsed and died on the spot. He was married with two teenage children and lived at Bathgate, West Lothian.

At least two other climbers have died during bad weather on Everest this season while, also this weekend, the adventurer Sir Ranulph Fiennes abandoned an attempt to reach the summit. Dr Milne, who was an expert in artificial intelligence and a passionate climber, was attempting the Seven Summits challenge: reaching the peaks of the highest mountains in all seven continents. He had climbed his first major peak, Mount Denali in Alaska, in 1980. During this Everest trip he was testing a mobile communications system called IM-PACS, which allows climbers and adventurers to plan their expeditions more effectively. Designed at the Artificial Intelligence Applications Institute in the School of Informatics at Edinburgh University, the technology was designed to allow Dr Milne to keep friends and family updated with details of his movements. IM-PACS was also designed to suggest alternative routes in the event of deteriorating weather and to help find a rescue strategy, should it be needed. He was also collecting seeds for botanical research. Dr Milne was born in Montana in the US and had dual British-US citizenship. He went to Edinburgh to study for his doctorate but went back to work as head of artificial intelligence at the Pentagon. He returned to Britain 18 years ago and set up a software company. He was also a visiting professor at several Scottish universities.

Professor Austin Tate, head of the School of Informatics, said last night: "I knew him for 25 years as a colleague and friend and it is a terrible shock." He stressed that while the equipment Dr Milne was testing was designed to help climbers, on this trip he was using it as a reporting method. Before he left for Everest, Dr Milne said: "Giving the IM-PACS software an ultimate field test will not only help pioneer the way for remote support, but also provide feedback to my friends and family as to how I am progressing."

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