Drones for Mining: A complete guide

Using drones for mining brings a huge host of benefits to mine owners, operators, and workers. From improved safety to faster data collection and clearer records, there is a lot that drones for mining can offer. This guide covers all you need to know on the topic. 

Introduction to drones for mining 

10 years ago, using drones for mining would have not seemed like a feasible option. However, today drones are in use in mines across the planet with a variety of benefits. This is because drones offer the chance to complete data collection remotely with a very quick deployment. Whether you are trying to survey an ore pass or simply get an overground survey, mining drones can provide the solution. With a huge range of specializations in drones for mining, it is not a question of whether a drone can be used at a mine, but which is the correct one. 

drones-for-mining-flyability-4A pilot in an underground mine, using a drone to remotely inspect an area 

Benefits of drones for mining 

Although mining is one of the oldest human activities that has helped us to build complex societies, it is a sector filled with danger. By its nature, excavations create risks to personnel and the environment with risks including landslides, collapse, and contamination. 

The uses of drones for mining focus on data collection - be it surveying information, visual inspections, or LiDAR scans. This form of gathering information from a mine, be it an open pit, strip mine, underground mine, or other, can help empower decision-making and keep people safe. 

Here are just a few of the benefits of using drones for mining: 

  1. Safety: drones provide remote access to environments. This can either be through gathering aerial data or inside underground environments. In these confined spaces, drones can be sent ahead of people to assess conditions, get crucial information, and provide a long-term record of findings. 

  2. Access: drones can reach areas that people cannot. Whether that is fast deployment for an aerial survey or inside old workings of a disused section of mine, drones can be used to safely reach spaces people cannot easily access. This access provides more data than has ever been available in the past but also speeds up the overall efficiency of operations. 

  3. Efficiency: drones, through a combination of improved safety standards, heightened access, and greater data coverage, make it possible to work faster. Detailed LiDAR scans with full data coverage can make it easier to make decisions, while aerial maps from drones can track progress over time. The availability of data combined with its quality makes work faster and streamlines communication, leaving less margin for error and improving overall operations for the mine. 

Further benefits include quality of data, digitalization of mines and clear record keeping, along with ease of reporting - amongst many others! Drones are a critical tool for mining, bringing innovation to an industry that has existed since the Bronze Age. 

drones-for-mining-flyability-1Drones can get close to inspection points, giving people fast, safe, and remote access to an area 

Applications of drones for mining 

No matter whether you are using a fixed-wing drone or a rotary model, you will be able to find uses for a drone in mining. The list of applications is almost endless, but here are some examples of applications of drones in mining: 

  • Measuring stope volumes - scanning underground mining environments with LiDAR 

  • Backfill calculations - this task can be completed with data from drones 

  • Mapping and surveying - whether to analyze hazardous environments or update records, this is a critical application of drones for mining 

  • Stockpile management - including volume calculations and tracking 

drones-for-mining-flyability-9A drone measures stockpiles inside a warehouse 

  • Tracking progress - overland mapping can help mine managers track progress by comparing orthomosaics created by drones over time 

  • Change detection - with highly precise drones, it is possible to identify changes in a tunnel as well as convergence monitoring. This is vital to maintaining mine safety. 

  • Emergency response - drones can be used to assess potential floods or to search for people trapped underground safely 

  • Assessing blast performance - analyze before/after imagery from drones above or below ground to determine how effective blast practices are and what can be improved. 

  • Asset management - from conveyor belts to ventilation systems, drones can provide visual and even thickness measurement inspections on key infrastructure while reducing downtime. 

  • Planning - from drone-based maps to plan route logistics to potential excavations in stopes, drone data can provide critical information that adds to the expansion of a mine

  • Localizing hang-ups - when an ore pass or chute is blocked, drones can offer quick situational awareness, reducing disruption

drones-for-mining-flyability-14A hangup in an orepass  visualized with a drone camera - it would not be safe for people to stand beneath this space, so the drone provides access without risk to personnel 

Guide for selecting the right drones for mining

The first thing to decide before buying a drone is the type of applications you wish to use it for. Some drones are built as multirotor models, flying with great agility in complex environments. Others have a fixed-wing style that can glide for hours at a time, gathering surveying data from a great height. 

Fixed-wing drone applications in mining 

Fixed-wing drones used in mining will be ideal for large, open-pit sites to help with completing surveys. You can choose between a drone that gathers photography for photogrammetry/orthomosaic results, or a drone that uses LiDAR to gather a more detailed 3D terrain map. 

In these cases, you should consider limitations to flight time, the altitude the drone flies at, and any local regulations that could hinder you using a drone. This does include proximity to airfields, air traffic control, and also the weather on the day you wish to complete a survey. 

Rotary drones for applications in mining 

Rotary drones are more maneuverable and useful for close-up inspections rather than large surveys. In these cases, you could use rotary drones for asset inspections, such as looking at cranes or analyzing a specific area. They can be used to track changes on a site, with quick deployment and shorter flight times than traditional fixed-wing drones. 

Certain rotary drones have protective cages that enable them to fly in confined spaces. These drones are particularly useful for inspections in underground environments where it can be more dangerous and using the drone can provide situational awareness if it is not possible to send people. In addition, the drone can be used to investigate old workings, assess explosive efficacy, and even monitor falls-of-ground instead of people. However, not all rotary drones can fly in GPS-denied environments underground, so you must select the right drone for this, such as an Elios 3. 

drones-for-mining-flyability-3The Elios 3 is a highly specialized drone designed for complex inspection projects in confined spaces, including in mines 

The ultimate drone for mining: the Elios 3 

The Elios 3 is the ideal drone for mining. With a protective cage to help it fly in complex environments, including ones without GPS signal, this drone can provide data of even the most challenging mining environments. 

With its patented flight controller and collision-resilient technology, the Elios 3 can safely fit through openings as small as 50x50cm and collect comprehensive data in previously inaccessible areas. It carries a powerful visual payload that captures 4K video and 12MP photos, along with a LiDAR Surveying Payload that captures 1 million points per second with centimeter accuracy and 0.1% drift. 

The Elios 3 has already been used in mines across the globe, from monitoring key infrastructure such as culverts to exploring old workings and even identifying blockages inside orepasses. Used at some of the most iconic and challenging mines in the world, it is a tried and proven example of how drones for mining drastically improve safety, efficiency, and access in complex mining environments. With mining case studies ranging across types of mines and assets, it is a proven asset that is part of the technological revolution that we are seeing as drones crack open the mining sector. 

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