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Scoping Australia’s mines with the latest drone technology

Australia is home to some of the world’s largest open-pit and underground mines and has thousands of abandoned mine sites. In recent years, both the government and operators have been keen to exploit the benefits of drone technology to safely collect data and explore abandoned, or legacy, mines.

In the Northern Territory, for example, where mining dates back to the1860s, legacy mines are a major problem with estimated liability costs of more than A$1bn. The government has started using drones to inspect these abandoned mines to help aid remediation efforts.

In January, Minister for Primary Industries and Resources, Ken Vowles, said that drone technology can reach otherwise inaccessible areas of the mine, producing digital terrain models that give operators a better perspective of the site.

Despite advances, drones still have their limitations, such as the number of sensors they can carry and low in-flight battery time.

Utilising LiDAR technology

Terra Drone has one of the most advanced UAVs to date, says Tsuyoshi Honda, the branch chief of the company’s first office in Australia, adding that it is ideal for supporting Australian mining operations.

The firm is the number one drone provider in Japan, according to Honda, and is a spin-off of Japanese electrical scooter manufacturer, Terra Motors.

Terra Drone’s Laser Drone model is equipped with light detection and ranging (LiDAR) laser technology. It can perform surveying, data capture, and 2D and 3D mapping.

Honda says , the drone, which can carry up to 10kg of payload and fly for two hours continuously, is the only UAV hardware that can integrate the Riegl LiDAR, what he calls the highest quality LiDAR system in the world.

“The LiDAR is heavy but because the drone can carry a larger than normal payload it can be integrated into our special hardware.”

“The LiDAR is heavy but because the drone can carry a larger than normal payload it can be integrated into our special hardware,” says Honda.

“We can then collect all the data and reduce time and costs compared to the traditional way of doing things.”

Furthermore, it is usually hard to collect relief data from steep surfaces, but, compared with a ground laser scanner, the LiDAR can effectively do this using the UAV.

The Laser Drone is also equipped with Terra UTM software, enabling an operator to manage multiple UAV missions simultaneously or to control the UAV, if needed.


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