February 2019

A safer, more productive future for underground mines

  • By Stefan Hrabar, PhD, CEO and Co-Founder of Emesent

Autonomous drone technology is becoming more valuable to the world of mining due to the latest technology developed by Emesent

Developed by former researchers from CSIRO’s Data61, autonomous drone company Emesent has developed world-leading ‘Hovermap’ technology that automates the collection of valuable data in underground areas that are too dangerous or difficult for people to survey or navigate, such as stopes or ore passes in mines.

Drones installed with Hovermap can be deployed in GPS-denied environments without a human controller to create 3D maps and record gas readings, videos and images.

Emesent recently raised $3.5 million in venture capital to commercialise Hovermap.

Hovermap in context: addressing problems for underground miners

Hovermap technology is a critical tool that improves the safety of mining professionals by removing the need to send people into potentially hazardous area.

Hovermap technology is a critical tool that improves the safety of mining professionals by removing the need to send people into potentially hazardous areas and generating awareness about the ground conditions to alert miners to potential hazards via 3D laser scans and images.

An example is stope mapping. Currently stopes are mapped using a CMS – a boom-mounted laser scanner. This requires the surveyors to operate close to the stope brow, one of the most hazardous areas to be underground. Using Hovermap, a drone can be launched from a safe distance and sent into the stope with no need for surveyors to be near the brow.

A second example is that it provides access into previously inaccessible areas. Drawpoint hangups rely on people working close to the brow to try and see the hangup. Hovermap removes people from near the brow for a remote inspection and the ability to specifically target the hangup, saving lost production time.

How the technology works

Hovermap includes a LiDAR (light detection and ranging) similar to those used on autonomous cars.

Hovermap includes a LiDAR (light detection and ranging) similar to those used on autonomous cars. This fires 300 000 laser pulses per second and measures the time taken for each pulse to reflect off the surroundings and return to the sensor. Based on the time taken and the speed of light, a range measure can be made for each pulse.

This range data is processed by a SLAM (simultaneous localisation and mapping) algorithm to create a 3D point cloud, a high resolution, high accuracy digital representation of the underground environment (stope, drive, chamber). The SLAM algorithm also estimates the motion of the drone and the location of the drone in the point cloud or map. This allows the drone to navigate without GPS.

The future of drones in mining

Early adopters are already using Hovermap underground and there is significant demand. For mines already adopting cutting edge technology and reaping the benefit, this technology will be standard in under two years. There are some very exciting advancements in the pipeline that will make it even easier, with analytics at the fingertips of the users.

The capability to make more definitive decisions, while reducing exposure to hazardous situations and improving efficiency and productivity is a very positive outcome. There are many challenges involved in getting information into the hands of decision makers. It is also these challenges that provide the greatest rewards.

Safe inspections of inaccessible areas

The drone can be flown safely underground into inaccessible areas.

Hovermap is a payload that is mounted to a drone to provide advanced capabilities, including omni-directional collision avoidance and the ability to fly and navigate without GPS. This allows the drone to be flown safely underground into these inaccessible areas.

Inspections are often the task of the geotechnical engineers and are required to ensure a safe workplace. These inspections defining what is ‘safe’ and ‘unsafe’ are usually based on subjective observations and the experience and judgement of the geotechnical engineer. Remote inspections through the use of Hovermap can provide quantitative assessments without exposing anyone to hazards.

The technology can benefit many areas within an operation. For the application of flying into a stope, Hovermap is quicker to deploy and map the stope so there are time efficiencies for the survey department. Mining engineers can be provided with better stope reconciliations and a greater understanding of their blast practices to minimise dilution, improving the cost effectiveness of future stopes.

A history of innovative thinking

Before spinning out of CSIRO, Emesent established its leadership in automated industrial operations in the underground world. In 2017, Hovermap enabled the world’s first fully autonomous beyond line-of-sight drone flight in an underground mine, 600 metres below the surface in Western Australia.

The Hovermap system is already being used commercially for a variety of applications by early adopters in Australia, the United States, Canada, China and Japan. A new program targeting the underground mining sector has now been rolled out, providing early access to Emesent’s mining-specific autonomy functions to selected participants. The Queensland-based company has also received support from CSIRO’s ON Accelerator program. Both Main Sequence Ventures – CSIRO Innovation Fund and ON are supported by the Federal Government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda (NISA).

Businesses and applications like Emesent and Hovermap are a crucial step towards Australia realising its global digital innovation potential, and showcase the world-class work being done by Australian resources professionals.

For more information about Emesent and its new early adopter program, visit: www.emesent.io

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