Drones deliver for remote mine work

04/05/2015 - 16:30

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Two local firms are using drone technology to reduce the cost of mine surveying and environmental assessments.

EYES IN THE SKY: Sam Atkinson (left) and Evan McKern with the Hawkeye fixed-wing drone. Photo: Attila Csaszar

Two local firms are using drone technology to reduce the cost of mine surveying and environmental assessments.  

UNMANNED aerial vehicles are helping make remote areas more accessible for work like mine surveying and even environmental assessments, with the area becoming increasingly competitive.

According to the Civil Aviation Safety Authority’s list of unmanned aerial systems operators, there are 37 WA companies certified to operate drones.

The list contains some of the state’s biggest consulting firms in this space, including WorleyParsons, Fugro Spatial Solutions, Land Surveys, Whelans and CADS Group.

The main purposes cited on the certification register are surveying, photography and spotting. Many have been operating such systems for the past three years or more as drone technology has improved and become more commercially accessible.

A more recent use is for environmental assessments, another traditionally laborious task on mine sites in remote Western Australia.

Environmental services firm Astron has partnered with aerial surveying firm Arvista to expand the use of drone technology from traditional surveying applications to environmental management.

Arvista has been flying its unmanned aerial vehicles since 2012, completing more than 600 flights over 60 projects.

Rival groups use different UAVs which carry cameras and replace the use of traditional aircraft for mine surveying uses, allowing more easily photograph entire mine sites in higher resolution, as well as generate detailed terrain models.

For instance Arvista flies eBee and Hawkeye drones while Land Surveys flies Gatewing X100 UAV platform. Both are fixed wing.

The drones are hand-launched and self-landing and can be programmed to autonomously photograph an area of up to 100 hectares in a single flight, and up to 700 hectares per day.

Arvista’s focus has been on mine surveying and stockpile assessment applications, but the partnership with Astron will allow it to apply the technology to environmental services.

Arvista manger Evan McKern said the company had identified the benefits of using UAV technology for mine planning at an early stage.

“We can now produce photo-mosaics of mine sites and at the same time generate detailed terrain models for use by the mine’s survey and engineering departments,” Mr McKern said.

“UAV data is also used to produce volumetric assessments of stockpiles and excavations.

“These calculations used to be done by a site surveyor, which took a long time and introduced additional safety considerations.”

Astron geospatial manager Sam Atkinson said the partnership would benefit both his company and Arvista.

“It’s a case of both companies expanding our reach,” Mr Atkinson said.

“It’s a growth industry and there aren’t many growth industries at the moment so while there are opportunities we are jumping in feet first.”

The companies were also trialling UAVs with longer flight times and higher payload capacity to increase the area they could cover and also reduce costs, while Mr Atkinson said they were also exploring applications in forestry and agriculture for the technology.

“For Astron, being an environmental consultancy we are interested in the application of UAV data for environmental monitoring,” Mr Atkinson said.

“That’s vegetation health monitoring, rehabilitation monitoring and we’re also looking at applications for fauna surveys.

Mr Atkinson said widespread cost cutting across the mining industry meant there was considerable demand to use UAV technology to drive down costs of doing business.

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