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The benefits of UAVs in mining

Drones, otherwise known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Systems, (UAVs) are beginning to have a profound effect on mining. By 2022, according to ADS Reports, the international drone market is expected to be worth *US$21.23 billion, growing at a rate of about 20 percent annually.

In the not-too-distant future, mine planning software will automatically task a fleet of UAVs – completely autonomously – to collect high-resolution coordinate scans, imagery, and other remote sensing of the entire mine every day. Data from highwalls, stockpiles, waste dumps, tailings dams, blasting, and plants will be collected by the same software and converted into information for quick decisions.

The Leica Aibot is helping mines to solve some of the industry’s perennial challenges.

Hexagon’s Tucson-based Mining division is among the companies shaping change by applying UAVs to solve challenges in the industry: better blast optimization, improved safety, faster surveying, and construction of the most comprehensive and continuous project datasets.

“Foot traffic is not allowed or is ill-advised in many parts of a mine,” explains UAS sales manager, Bryan Baker of Leica Geosystems, part of Hexagon. “Obtaining measurements with a surveying rod, total station or GNSS can be problematic. UAV aerial photography and remote sensing allow us to capture all that information without putting someone in harm’s way.”

Whether it’s for blast fragmentation, stockpile volumes, or any other mine-related activity, data can be captured quickly and safely in near real time from areas that would otherwise be inaccessible or unsafe for staff.

Hexagon subsidiary, Leica Geosystems, is pushing photogrammetry’s boundaries with its newly-renovated UAV line featuring the Leica Aibot. Equipped with a high level of artificial intelligence, these UAVs create high-resolution images and videos. It also offers the possibility to adapt varying kinds of sensors, such as hyper- and multispectral sensors, infrared and thermal sensors and sensors for other industry-specific missions.

Data captured by the Aibot and the software solutions of Leica Geosystems and Hexagon allow mines to generate orthophotos, 3D models, and high-density point clouds with great accuracy.

“It’s crazy how much time we save by using the multicopter,” said Magnus Myhre, Daily Manager at Norwegian firm Asker Oppmaling AS. “We can control the Aibot hexacopter from a central location, which saves us the laborious task of having to walk through the pit.”

The company tested the UAV at a 33-hectare stone quarry near Oslo. Asker compared the ground control points that were measured conventionally with those measured using the UAV. The result: values measured using the UAV are extremely precise. It would usually take up to four weeks just to survey the quarry using conventional methods.

Hexagon’s mine planning software is well-equipped to handle point clouds. “Its point-cloud data type features a high level of detail rendering capability, akin to a gaming rendering,” said Hexagon technical sales specialist, Johnny Lyons-Baral. “The software can display billions of points at a time, averaging out points in the pixels with level detail rendering, saving computer memory while displaying high-resolution images.

“Our Point Cloud Mesher turns large data sets into topographic surfaces, tunnels, drifts and stopes, and any other solids and surfaces available from point clouds. It allows mines to quickly go from field capture to usable data for optimization.”

The digital mine of the future will need remote surveying sensors along with automated control and processing software to create complete digital project models. And that future is closer than you might think!

Left, orthophoto generated by Leica Geosystems’ UAV. 
3D mine model structure generated by the UAV. Courtesy Hexagon

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