As the world population continues to grow, an increase in mining is needed to support the population. People all over the world rely on resources like coal, limestone, and metals that are buried deep within the earth. Since humans have been mining the earth for thousands of years, shallow ore deposits are a thing of the past. Today, miners have to dig to record depths to reach raw materials posing great safety risks to anyone involved. In a 2017 paper released by the Department of Civil Engineering, Monash University in Melbourne, Australia titled Opportunities and Challenges in Deep Mining: A Brief Review, researchers pointed out that the new normal digging depth for mines is between 3,000-24,000ft. The paper’s authors go on to state, “Compared with shallow resource extraction, deep mining may be associated with disasters such as rockbursts, large-scale caving, and large inrush of mixed coal, gas, and water. These events are often complex in nature and difficult to forecast and control.”
The paper goes on to highlight new advances in the mining industry that intend to make mining safer, efficient, greener, and more economic. Falling under the category they call intelligent mining, many mining companies have adopted a wide range of robotic and unmanned devices in place of human miners. One such tool that has become of great use in mines are drones. Drones can be flown into a mine to inspect for any dangers like unstable rock structures or possible gas leaks. The drones can also be used to collect images to be compiled into topographical maps. These maps are then used to create detailed mining plans that keep miners safe while extracting an optimal ore load. This past summer, an Australian drone and data company conducted a first of its kind drone mission at mines in Australia and Canada.
Founded in 2018 by Dr. Stefan Hrabar and Dr. Farid Kendoul, Emesent uses drones to enable LiDAR mapping and data collection for survey and mapping, infrastructure, and mining industries. “Our flagship product, Hovermap,” Emesent’s website explains, “is a smart mobile scanning unit that combines advanced collision avoidance and autonomous flight technologies to map hazardous and GPS-denied environments. Hovermap is uniquely versatile, it can be handheld, drone-or vehicle-mounted to map challenging, inaccessible areas.” Weighing less than 4lbs, Hovermap can easily be switched between use on a drone, vehicle, or manual while transferring data seamlessly. It is compatible with most small professional drones like DJI’s Matrice.
Because Hovermap can operate in GPS denied areas and gives a drone sense and avoidance capabilities, it can work autonomously in the deepest of mine shafts. A new feature has been added to Hovermap called Colourisation that “provides greater insights across a variety of applications, revealing previously hidden details in your critical infrastructure.” Emesent’s next step was to prove that drones equipped with a Hovermap device could be operated in a mine while the operator was elsewhere in the world.
In early August of 2020, a crew from a South African mining company remotely operated a drone with the assistance of a Hovermap deep in a tunnel. However, the operators in South Africa were nearly 7,000 miles away from the drone stationed in Queensland. A few weeks later, Emesent ran a second long distance operation trial. This time the drone was located at an Ultra-Deep Canadian Hard-Rock Mine while back in Australia Dr. Harbar and Dr. Kendoul entered the desired coordinates for the drone to autonomously navigate through. In both scenarios, the drone navigated the terrain successfully while the pilot was thousands of miles away. The implications of a drone that can be operated in GPS denied locations from afar are a huge benefit for mining and infrastructure industries.
Often time the sites these industries operate need to be monitored long after a job ends. Rather than sending crews back to the site, a large expense, a drone can be deployed to do the job. But, today more than ever, being able to remotely oversee such projects has become critical in keeping economies flowing. “Traditionally, mining and industrial companies have mobilized people for field tasks, such as reconnaissance, reporting, and maintenance, but the current COVID crisis has demonstrated the vulnerability of that modus operandi,” Dr. Hrabar said. “The lockdowns which have been imposed around the world have made it impossible for many mine sites and other remote facilities to continue operating in their normal way.” Drones enabled with a device like Hovermap complete jobs that are too risky for humans to manually undertake. But they also will help keep these industries running during these uncertain times.