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How Expedition Bigfoot tracks the big beast with drones and algorithms

On Travel Channel's new show, survivalists, scientists and researchers use the latest high-tech gadgets to look for the elusive Sasquatch.

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Researcher Ronny Le Blanc and Mireya Mayor take a closer look at a possible Sasquatch nesting site for Expedition Bigfoot. 

Travel Channel

While skeptics think Bigfoot is fictional, witnesses still come forward to say they've had encounters with the legendary beast. But with all the claims the creature must exist, no one has ever gotten a good enough photo or video to satisfy the naysayers.

Expedition Bigfoot, a TV series currently airing on Travel Channel, hopes to do its best to bring the latest research on the cryptid creature to light. 

A grainy still from the infamous 1967 Patterson tape purporting to show Bigfoot in the wild is the only footage of the elusive creature.

Video screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET

"For me as a scientist, it captured my attention," said Florida International University primatologist Mireya Mayor, one member of the show's team. "When you have this many modern-day reports, you have to take that seriously. All you need is that one to be true."

The team also includes Bigfoot Collectors Club podcaster Bryce Johnson, ex-military/survivalist Russell Acord, Bigfoot researcher/author Ronny LeBlanc and Bigfoot investigator Ryan Golembeske. I chatted with a few of them via email about the series and its quest to put the mystery of Bigfoot to rest.

There have been plenty of Bigfoot-themed shows in the past, but the cast of Expedition Bigfoot thinks they have a unique approach. 

The researchers use tech tools to analyze five decades of Bigfoot sightings. With this data, they try to pinpoint when and where to encounter this mysterious beast. 

"What sets us a part is we used a completed algorithm that tells us where Bigfoot is going to be -- and when is going to be there, which gave us a tremendous advantage," Johnson said. 

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The team and experts from PrecisionHawk launch a LIDAR-equipped drone to capture video from surroundings in the Oregon forest in hopes of locating Bigfoot.

Travel Channel

Throughout the series, the team works from a remote location in a 90,000-acre area of land in central Oregon, studying possible nesting sites, footprints and vocalizations that could end up giving them the evidence they need once and for all. 

Each episode has the team investigating areas in the Oregon forest zones that have the most sightings, which can include possible nests -- specific areas where trees and branches are deliberately broken to make a crude shelter. 

"We also embed ourselves in this territory for an extended period time," Mayor said. "That's really how you would conduct any legit scientific expedition. And all of the technology we had at our disposal is unlike anything I've ever seen -- an artillery of tools most scientists don't have the advantage of having."

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Mayor plays recorded Bigfoot vocalizations into the woods at dusk to try to draw out Bigfoot. Sound experts stand nearby monitoring for any significant audio pick-ups. 

Travel Channel

Some of the tools used on the show include drones to capture aerial footage, thermal scopes, trail cameras, 3D image scanners and night vision goggles. The team also uses Ozonics, which when sprayed on the team's clothes and vehicles eliminate the human scent that could alert Bigfoot to their presence. 

In one episode, the team finds large animal footprints that could be possible Bigfoot evidence. They use a 3D scanner to take a high-definition image that they can look at more closely using more sophisticated equipment.

But even with their arsenal of high-tech gadgets, the team still faced quite a few challenges during their quest to find usable evidence to prove the existence of Bigfoot.

"The most difficult part for me was having to deal with so many 'unexplainables,'" Mayor said. "As a scientist, I can pretty much figure out an explanation for anything. There were things on the expedition that we saw or that happened to us that science couldn't explain. 

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Mayor uses a 3D image scanner to capture a possible Bigfoot footprint left in the dirt. The scanner allows the team to re-create a 3D computer image of the footprint, for closer examination.

Travel Channel

Another challenge was the way rain, hail and the cold affect animal behavior, Mayor added. 

"Animals tend to bunker down and be more silent and sound in this weather," she said. "When animals are perfectly still, it really reduces your chances of being able to see them."

In addition, rain makes the ground softer, a challenge when you're traversing rugged terrain hauling a heavy pack. "That can become water logged, and become quite heavy," Acord said. 

Challenges aside, the team hopes to shed more light on the Bigfoot legend and remind viewers the creature might not just be an eerie campfire tale after all.

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Russell Acord installs motion-activated trail cameras near a water source in hopes that the team will be alerted if Bigfoot triggers the camera.

Travel Channel

"Bigfoot represents that parts of the world are still unexplored," Johnson said. "That's a big appeal of Bigfoot. There are still animals and creatures out there to discover. The unexplainable still exists -- the idea that monsters can still roam the woods."

Meanwhile, sightings continue, with two in Massachusetts' Leominster State Forrest over the last six to seven months, according to LeBlanc. "There is something out there physically leaving tracks and hair samples," LeBlanc said. 

For Mayor, centuries of reports and sightings offer hope, "the hope that there is more than just 'us' -- an answer to our evolutionary history that only Bigfoot can answer."

Bigfoot fans and skeptics alike can follow along on the team's journey on Expedition Bigfoot, currently airing on Travel Channel.