Aus­tralian re­searchers are at the fore­front of ad­vanc­ing drone ap­pli­ca­tions for the min­ing in­dus­try.

The Australian Mining Review - - FRONT PAGE - CAMERON DRUM­MOND

Ad­vances in drone tech­nol­ogy have led to a mas­sive up­take in the min­ing in­dus­try, with LiDAR map­ping sys­tems and au­to­ma­tion lead­ing the way.

SINCE its ini­tial use in mil­i­tary ap­pli­ca­tions, drone tech­nol­ogy has evolved into a cost-sav­ing and ef­fi­cient tool for many in­dus­tries, in­clud­ing min­ing.

Min­ing ma­jors such as BHP al­ready recog­nise the ad­van­tages of drone tech­nol­ogy for a range of ap­pli­ca­tions.

BMA min­ing pro­duc­tion head Frans Knox said the use of drones at mine sites has made op­er­a­tions safer and more pro­duc­tive.

“At some of our coal mines in QLD, they’re used to en­sure ar­eas are clear be­fore a blast takes place and to track fumes post-blast,” Mr Knox said.

“They’re also used to im­prove road safety on sites, by mon­i­tor­ing traf­fic, road con­di­tions and haz­ards.

“At our Olympic Dam mine in South Aus­tralia, the main­te­nance team use them to help in­spect over­head cranes, tow­ers and roofs of tall build­ings to avoid work­ing at height.

“We’re also be­com­ing more pro­duc­tive. We’ve been tri­alling drones fit­ted with mil­i­tary-grade cam­eras to pro­vide real time aerial footage and 3D maps of our sites.

“This is far cheaper than us­ing planes for sur­vey work, and the sav­ings at our sites in QLD alone are es­ti­mated to be $5m a year.

“With drones, we now gather more in­for­ma­tion about our sites than ever be­fore.

“We can more quickly and ac­cu­rately mea­sure our stock­piles, re­view com­pli­ance to de­sign against mine plans and un­der­stand where we need to make changes to im­prove safety or boost pro­duc­tiv­ity.”

Au­to­mated drones

Ac­cord­ing to global con­sul­tancy firm McKin­sey & Com­pany, the rise of au­to­ma­tion – in­clud­ing its use in drones – will in­crease pro­duc­tiv­ity at mine sites by a whop­ping 25 per cent.

They could also cut health and safety costs as much as 20 per cent by re­duc­ing the num­ber of work­place ac­ci­dents.

Over the past decade, the grow­ing use of ro­botic process au­to­ma­tion has qui­etly taken root – with early adopters such as Boe­ing in­vest­ing more than $1 bil­lion in re­search and de­vel­op­ment.

It au­to­mates repet­i­tive and of­ten rules- based pro­cesses with­out the use of a hu­man re­source, and is an area of tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ment that busi­ness lead­ers in min­ing are look­ing at to help max­imise ef­fi­cien­cies and cut labour costs.

While most drone ap­pli­ca­tions in the min­ing in­dus­try are cur­rently per­formed with hu­man in­put, com­pa­nies – such as Is­re­ali-based Airobotics – of­fer drone sys­tems that do not re­quire a pi­lot or an op­er­a­tor.

Airobotics founder Ran Krauss said his com­pany’s vi­sion was to de­velop a to­tally un­manned sys­tem ca­pa­ble of car­ry­ing out the same tasks as pi­loted drones.

“The sys­tem fully au­to­mates drone op­er­a­tions, and con­sists of three com­po­nents: An air­base, a 2.1m high dock­ing sta­tion equipped with a ro­botic arm for bat­tery and pay­load swap­ping, the in­dus­trial-grade Op­ti­mus drone and the Airobotics cloud-based soft­ware,” Mr Krauss said.

Be­sides re­mov­ing the need of a pi­lot, the util­i­sa­tion of au­to­mated drones in the min­ing in­dus­try can of­fer a range of ben­e­fits.

Lead­ing Aus­tralian drone re­searcher Dr Simit Raval from Uni­ver­sity of NSW’s Min­ing En­gi­neer­ing depart­ment said that ad­vances in drone tech­nol­ogy had hit a price point and safety ben­e­fit for in­dus­tries such as the min­ing sec­tor.

“Ba­si­cally, drone based ob­ser­va­tions in most of the cases are quicker and cheaper com­pared to air­borne or in some cases ground based sur­vey with­out com­pro­mis­ing on the ac­cu­racy,” Dr Raval said.

Nowa­days, drones can pro­vide more fre­quent and ac­cu­rate in­spec­tions of crit­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture such as pits, tail­ings dams and haul roads, and help pre­vent in­fra­struc­ture fail­ure and equip­ment dam­age by quickly iden­ti­fy­ing risks and the area of con­cerns.

Their use can also save on fuel and labour costs by re­mov­ing the need for em­ploy­ees us­ing ground-based ve­hi­cles to con­duct in­spec­tions.

Drilling and blast­ing can be­come more ef­fi­cient, with au­to­mated drones pro­vid­ing ac­cu­rate drill-hole align­ments, and there­fore elim­i­nat­ing the ex­ces­sive use of blast ma­te­ri­als.

The map­ping of the blast frag­men­ta­tion sizes pro­duced by ac­cu­rate blast­ing as well as track­ing of fumes dis­per­sion is pos­si­ble in-turn help re­duce wear and tear on haul­ing and crush­ing equip­ment us­ing drones.

“We flew drones over a coal stock­pile at Glen­core’s Ulan Coal mine for ther­mal imag­ing, and have also used drone mounted high res­o­lu­tion hy­per­spec­tral imag­ing at Rus­sell Vale Col­liery to ‘fin­ger­print’ the sen­si­tive ecosys­tem over a long­wall min­ing area at a very fine scale that is im­prac­ti­cal by any other con­ven­tional meth­ods of eco­log­i­cal sur­veys,” Dr Raval said.

“We have also de­signed a pro­to­type drone-based wa­ter sam­ple col­lec­tion sys­tem and tested it suc­cess­fully at the tail­ings dam of the Glen­dell coal mine.”

Drones can help with quick in­ci­dent de­tec­tion to min­imise dam­age and clean-up costs, as well as en­vi­ron­men­tal dam­age.

The abil­ity to pro­vide live video feeds means they can also be used for site se­cu­rity and help aid with re­sponse dur­ing emer­gency sit­u­a­tions.

Dr Raval and his team are ac­tively in­volved in de­vel­op­ing drone-based “pre­ci­sion mine re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion tech­nolo­gies” to aid speedy re­cov­ery of mined land.

Ad­min­is­tra­tion and man­age­ment can also be made more ef­fi­cient, us­ing drones to make it faster and eas­ier to track and lo­cate equip­ment, man­age con­trac­tors, and per­form pre­cise stock­pile eval­u­a­tions.

“We are in process of cou­pling vir­tual re­al­ity sys­tem with real-time drone feed, which in re­cent fu­ture would ben­e­fit ac­tive ad­min­is­tra­tion and man­age­ment,” Dr Raval said.

Dr Raval is also cur­rently lead­ing an Aus­tralian Coal As­so­ci­a­tion Re­search Pro­gram ( ACARP) project that ex­plores drone-based LiDAR sys­tem for char­ac­ter­is­ing struc­tural pa­ram­e­ters of pit walls.

“In min­ing, my vi­sion for a mine site is to have a num­ber of drones mak­ing au­to­mated ob­ser­va­tions that feed into a smart sys­tem to pre­dict ar­eas of con­cern and mit­i­gate against them,” Dr Raval said.

He also down­played fears that em­ploy­ees in the min­ing in­dus­try would lose jobs to drone tech­nol­ogy.

“It is highly un­likely for peo­ple to lose jobs over the use of drones,” Dr Raval said.

“In fact, in­crease in com­mer­cial use of drones is more likely to cre­ate new jobs.

“We all are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a big evo­lu­tion in terms of au­to­ma­tion; if we be­lieve in Dar­win’s the­ory of evo­lu­tion then this is the time to em­brace and adopt these new gad­gets in min­ing.

Cur­rent CASA reg­u­la­tions lim­its the use of fully au­ton­o­mous drone sys­tems at the mo­ment, but that would soon change Dr Raval mused as the tech­nol­ogy be­comes more ad­vanced and safer.

“I have no doubt that there will be drones ev­ery­where in in­dus­try ap­pli­ca­tions as the tech­nol­ogy gets bet­ter and more re­li­able.”

Go­ing Un­der­ground

While min­ing com­pa­nies reg­u­larly fly drones to get aerial views of their fa­cil­i­ties, tak­ing them un­der­ground rep­re­sents a much riskier use of the tech­nol­ogy.

Re­cently blasted and low vis­i­bil­ity cav­i­ties such as stopes can con­ceal hid­den dangers, such as fall­ing rocks, damp­ness or dust with the po­ten­tial to in­ca­pac­i­tate or de­stroy the ex­pen­sive machines.

An­other ma­jor chal­lenge for a drone fly­ing un­der­ground is that it isn’t able to use con­ven­tional satel­lite-nav­i­ga­tion sys­tems, such as GPS, like it could on the sur­face.

How­ever the CSIRO, un­der its re­search unit Data61, is cur­rently test­ing its Hovermap sys­tem – a pay­load that is at­tached to a drone that can be de­ployed to nav­i­gate large ar­eas in un­der­ground min­ing op­er­a­tions.

Data 61 prin­ci­pal re­search sci­en­tist Dr Ste­fan Hrabar said that he and his team had al­ready suc­cess­fully car­ried out un­der­ground tests us­ing Hovermap at North­ern Star Re­sources’ Jundee and South32’s Can­ning­ton projects in WA, as well as Newcrest’s Ca­dia Val­ley mine in NSW.

“Hovermap con­sists of a LiDAR laser and on board com­puter with soft­ware con­nected to an au­topi­lot sys­tem,” Dr Hrabar said.

LiDAR is a sur­vey­ing method that mea­sures dis­tance to a tar­get by il­lu­mi­nat­ing that tar­get with a pulsed laser light, and mea­sur­ing the re­flected pulses with a sen­sor.

“Hovermap is a com­bi­na­tion of two dif­fer­ent ar­eas of re­search,” Dr Hrabar said.

“One part is drone au­ton­omy – which we have been work­ing on for more than 10 years – in­volv­ing putting in sen­sors and in­tel­li­gence to drones us­ing cam­eras, lasers and radar so the drone can de­tect ob­sta­cles and fol­low dif­fer­ent types of ter­rain with­out the need for ex­pert pi­lot con­trol.”

“We all are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a big evo­lu­tion in terms of au­to­ma­tion. If we be­lieve in Dar­win’s the­ory of evo­lu­tion, then this is the time to em­brace and adopt these new gad­gets in min­ing.”

“In par­al­lel we have been solv­ing the prob­lem of how to lo­calise a ro­bot in a new en­vi­ron­ment.

“This started with ground-based ro­bots go­ing into a brand new area it’s never seen and be­ing able to build a map and fig­ure out where it be­longs within that map – a com­mon prob­lem in robotics.

“Our re­search de­vel­oped a very ro­bust way of im­ple­ment­ing si­mul­ta­ne­ous lo­cal­i­sa­tion and map­ping (SLAM) us­ing only the data from a 3D LiDAR and a low-grade IMU, mean­ing the Hovermap pay­load can al­low a drone to go into a brand new en­vi­ron­ment while mov­ing around and map­ping its sur­round­ing area.

“SLAM is used to nav­i­gate in sit­u­a­tions with­out us­ing GPS, and post-flight we are able to use the same al­go­rithms to pro­duce a high res­o­lu­tion 3D model and cor­rect for any drifts that may have been ac­cu­mu­lated dur­ing flight.

“The by-prod­uct is that we are able pro­duce this lovely look­ing map which you can an­a­lyse, ma­nip­u­late and take mea­sure­ments from – and we re­alised this can be very valu­able in ap­pli­ca­tions such as un­der­ground min­ing.”

Tri­als map­ping un­der­ground stopes at Can­ning­ton and Jundee were well re­ceived by the min­ing com­pa­nies.

“We tested the au­ton­o­mous ca­pa­bil­ity at South32’s Can­ning­ton un­der­ground mine, which showed the abil­ity of the drone’s sta­bil­ity and col­li­sion avoid­ance sys­tems while mea­sur­ing the stope au­tonomously, which marked the world’s first au­ton­o­mous drone flights un­der­ground,” Dr Hrabar said.

“Hav­ing the drone fly into a stope means you don’t have to have any peo­ple near the stope it­self, which adds safety value to the op­er­a­tion, and for vol­u­met­ric cal­cu­la­tions it’s just way bet­ter – it re­moves the guess­work of the shad­ow­ing ef­fects from cur­rent forms of stope mea­sure­ment such as a cav­ity

“The by-prod­uct is that we are able pro­duce this lovely look­ing map which you can an­a­lyse, ma­nip­u­late and take mea­sure­ments from – and we re­alised this can be very valu­able in ap­pli­ca­tions such as un­der­ground min­ing.”

mon­i­tor­ing sys­tem (CMS).

“Be­cause of the den­sity and level of de­tail gath­ered by the Hovermap pay­load, min­ers can now un­der­stand the geotech­ni­cal side of things a lot bet­ter.

“The big dif­fer­ence of our test at Jundee was we flew be­yond line-of-site of the op­er­a­tor, send­ing the drone into ar­eas where it flew au­tonomously for nine min­utes of flight with­out any­one be­ing able to see it.

“This un­der­ground au­ton­o­mous be­yond line-of-sight flight was an­other world first.”

The Data61 team also tested Hovermap in a block cave en­vi­ron­ment at Newcrest’s Ca­dia Val­ley mine, where it suc­cess­fully flew into the draw points of a block cave to see if it could map out any hangups that may have clogged up.

“It’s been eye open­ing to see so much de­mand for the ap­pli­ca­tion of sys­tems like Hovermap for au­ton­o­mous un­der­ground map­ping us­ing drones,” Dr Hrabar said.

“Our next test will be in Canada at Glen­core’s Kidd Creek op­er­a­tion for fur­ther tri­als and demon­stra­tions to­gether with UAS Inc, our Cana­dian-based early adopter.”

Im­age: UNSW.



Un­der­ground drone test­ing of Hovermap’s LiDAR map­ping and au­ton­omy pay­load.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.