nmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – commonly referred to as drones – are widely used in many industries for mapping

and inspection tasks. Being fairly conservative when it comes to the adoption of new technologies, and also working within a strict regulatory environment, the mining industry has been a little slower in embracing this technology; but it’s certainly catching up of late. Today you can fi nd drones being used for an array of mining activities – and not just aboveground; they are being put to work underground too. Popular applications include the obvious mapping and planning for blasting tasks, but they are also increasingly being used for mine management – tracking vehicles and machines, for instance – and in exploration activities. Here, we look at some of the leading players in this sector to discover the latest technological advances in the use of drones at mines.

Swiss engineering One of the big names in this sector is the Swiss drone-maker senseFly, now owned by the Parrot group. Seeing great potential for the use of drones in mapping at mines, the company has joined forces with

Maptek, an expert in precision measurement and visualisation tools for the mining sector. T e partnership means that Maptek can off er its mining customers a full, end-to-end data collection and analysis solution. Under the terms of the agreement,

Maptek can provide its customers with senseFly’s professional mapping and inspection drones (eBee, eBee RTK and albris) alongside its popular I-Site Studio 3D modelling software. “By combining a senseFly UAV with our I-Site Studio 3D modelling software, customers in the mining industry now have a powerful solution that is driven

by not only survey requirements, but also the in-depth modelling, change detection and data output requirements demanded by mining professionals,” says Todd Packebush from Maptek. “senseFly’s durable, largely automated mapping drones are already employed by thousands of professionals, such as mining engineers, around the world, who appreciate the productivity and safety boosting benefi ts of collecting geospatial data from the air,” adds Jean-Christophe Zuff erey, senseFly’s CEO As well as partnering with other solutions providers, sensFly reports that its drones are also doing some interesting mining work all by themselves. In a recent project, when Energizer Resources needed to survey its site at a large graphite mine in Madagascar, its team purchased two senseFly drones to avoid the expense of airborne lidar. A full land survey of the site was

required, the results of which would be used to create a 3D contour map of the site. T e team would then use this to determine the location of the mine’s dam – since such mines are highly dependent on water – plus the location of its accompanying pipeline, as well as the positions of plant assets such as buildings and equipment. “For this survey we considered

various approaches with DRA,” explains Eric Steffl er, the geomatics manager at Energizer Resources. “We looked at fl ying a large-scale lidar survey for example, using manned aircraft, which would have enabled us to produce a full hydrological model of the region, covering 3,000km2


However, this would have been very expensive – involving the importing of aircraft from South Africa – running to hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

The Aibot X6 UAV

Luckily, DRA discovered that another organisation had already fl own some of the area in question and was happy to share its data. With access to this information, Energizer and DRA were able to narrow down the target region to a much more manageable 150km2

. But that still left the question

of how to survey this land. “We chose to employ drones for

two reasons,” Steffl er says: “One was the price. T is was very low compared to a lidar survey, which would have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, even with our reduced survey area. T e second was that by making a capital investment in two eBee drones, we could then fl y these over our other properties in Canada. Since we now have the technology we need to produce digital elevation models and air photos ourselves, we don’t have to hire third-party companies to do this for us.” T e eBees were kept very busy, with the 150km2

total coverage easily at the

larger end of UAV mapping projects. Steffl er calculated his UAVs would need to complete over 300 fl ights in total, with an average fl ight time of 35 minutes, an average fl ight coverage of 2.5km2

, and capturing some 150 RGB

images per fl ight (15,000 photos in total). Energizer’s three staff spent a total of 90 days in the fi eld, setting GCPs and 9

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